Leo Tolstoy Archive

Family Happiness
Chapter 6

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

Leo Tolstoy

The days, the weeks, two entire months of lonely country life slipped away, imperceptibly, it appeared to us; but the sensations, the emotions, and the happiness of these two months would have sufficed to fill a whole life. My dreams, and his, concerning the mode of organizing our joint existence were not realized exactly as we had anticipated. But, nevertheless, the reality was not below our dreams. This was not the life of strict industry, full of duties, abnegation, and sacrifices, which I had pictured to myself when I became his betrothed; on the contrary, it was the absorbing and egotistical sentiment of love, joys without reason and without end, oblivion of everything in the world. He would, it is true, sometimes retire to his study and occupy himself with something demanding attention; sometimes he went to the city on business, or overlooked his agricultural matters; but I could see how hard it was for him to tear himself away from me. Indeed, he himself said that whenever I was not present, things appeared to him so devoid of interest that the wonder was that he could attend to them at all. It was precisely the same on my side. I read, I busied myself with my music, with Mama, with the schools; but I only did so because all these employments were in some way connected with him, and met with his approbation, and the instant the thought of him ceased to be in some manner, direct or indirect, associated with anything whatever that I was doing, I would stop doing it. To me, he was the only person in the universe, the handsomest, noblest human being in the wide world; of course, therefore, I could live for nothing but him, could strive for nothing but to remain in his eyes what he considered me. For he honestly considered me the first and highest of women, gifted with every excellence and charm; and my one aim was to be in reality for him this highest and most complete of all existing creatures.

Ours was one of those old country homes, where generation after generation of ancestors had lived, loved each other, and peacefully passed away. The very walls seemed to breathe out happy household memories, and no sooner had I set my foot upon the threshold, than these all appeared to become memories of my own. The arrangement and order of the dwelling were old-fashioned, carefully kept so by Tatiania Semenovna. No one could have said that anything was handsome or elegant, but everything, from the attendance to the furniture and the food, was proper, solid, regular, and seemed to inspire respect. In the drawing-room, tables, chairs, and divans were symmetrically ranged, the walls were hidden by family portraits, and the floor was covered with ancient rugs and immense landscapes in linen. In the small parlor there was an old grand piano, two chiffoniers of different shapes, a divan, and one or two tables decorated with wrought copper. My private room, adorned by Tatiana Semenovna, was honored with all the finest pieces of furniture, irrespective of varying styles and dates, and, among the rest, with an old mirror with doors, which at first I hardly dared to raise my eyes to, but which afterwards became like a dear old friend to me. Tatiana’s voice was never heard, but the household went on with the regularity of a well-wound clock, although there were many more servants than were necessary. But all these servants, wearing their soft heelless slippers (for Tatiana Semenovna insisted that creaking soles and pounding heels were, of all things in the world, the most disagreeable), all these servants appeared proud of their condition, trembling before the old lady, showing to my husband and me a protecting good-will, and seeming to take special satisfaction in the discharge of their respective duties. Every Saturday, regularly, the floors were scoured, and the carpets shaken; on the first day of every month, a Te Deum was chanted, and holy water sprinkled; while upon every recurring fête-day of Tatiana Semenovna and her son, and now also upon mine (which took place this autumn, for the first time), a feast was given to all the neighborhood. And all this was performed precisely as in the oldest times that Tatiana Semenovna could remember.

My husband interfered in nothing concerning the management of the house, confining himself to the control of the estate, and the affairs of the peasants, which fully occupied him.

He rose very early, even during the winter, so that he was always gone when I woke. He generally returned for tea, which we took alone together; and at these times, having finished the troubles and annoyances of his agricultural matters, he would often fall into that particularly joyous lighthearted state of mind, which we used to call le transport sauvage. Often, when I asked him to tell me what he had been doing all the morning, he would relate such perfectly absurd adventures, that we would almost die of laughing; sometimes when I demanded a sober account, he would give it to me, making an effort to restrain even a smile. As for me, I watched his eyes, or the motion of his lips, and did not understand a word he said, being entirely taken up with the pleasure of looking at him and hearing his voice.

“Come, now, what was I saying?” he would ask; “repeat it to me!”

But I never could repeat any of it.

Tatiana Semenovna never made her appearance until dinner time, taking her tea alone, and only sending an ambassador to wish us good-morning. I always found it hard not to burst out laughing, when the maid entered, took her stand before us with her hands crossed one upon the other, and, in her measured tones informed us that Tatiana Semenovna desired to know whether we had slept well, and whether we liked the little cakes we had for tea. Until dinner time we seldom remained together. I played, or read, alone; he wrote, or sometimes went out again; but at four o’clock we went down to the drawing-room for dinner. Mama came out of her chamber, and then the poor gentle-folk and pilgrims who happened to be lodging in the house, usually two or three in number made their appearance. Regularly every day my husband, following the ancient custom, offered his arm to his mother, to conduct her to the dining-room, and she requested him to take me upon his other arm. Mama presided at dinner, and the conversation was of a serious, thoughtful turn, not altogether without a shade of solemnity. The simple everyday talk between my husband and myself was the only agreeable diversion in the grave aspect of these table sessions. After dinner, Mama took her seat in a large arm-chair in the salon, and cut open the leaves of any newly-arrived books; we read aloud, or went to the piano in the small drawing-room. We read a great deal together during those two months, but music continued to be our supreme enjoyment, for every day it seemed to strike some new chord in our hearts, whose vibrations revealed us to each other more and more wholly. When I was playing his favorite airs he retired to a divan at some distance, where I could scarcely see him, and with a kind of modesty of sentiment tried to conceal from me the emotion my music produced; but, often, when he least expected it, I rose from the piano and ran to him, to try to surprise upon his countenance the traces of this deep feeling and to catch the almost supernatural light in the humid eyes which he vainly strove to conceal from me. I presided over our late tea in the large drawing-room, again all the family were gathered round the table, and for a long time this formal assembling near the samovar, as in a tribunal, with the distribution of the cups and glasses, discomposed me very much. It always seemed to me that I was not yet worthy of these honors, that I was too young, too giddy, to turn the faucet of that stately samovar, set the cups on Nikita’s tray and say: “For Peter Ivanovitch; for Maria Minichna,” and ask: “Is it sweet enough?” And afterwards give out the lumps of sugar for the white-haired nurse and the other old servants. “Perfect, perfect,” my husband would often tell me; “quite a grown-up person!” and then I would feel more intimidated than ever.

After tea Mama played patience, or she and Maria Minichna had a game of cards together; then she embraced us both and gave us her blessing, and we withdrew to our own apartment. There, however, our evening tête-à-tête was usually prolonged until midnight, for these were our pleasantest hours in the twenty-four. He told me about his past life, we made plans, occasionally we philosophized, all the time talking in a low tone lest we might be overheard. We lived, he and I, almost upon the footing of strangers in this huge old house, where everything seemed to be weighed upon by the severe spirit of ancient times and of Tatiana Semenovna. Not only she herself, but also the servants, all these old men and women, the furniture, the pictures, all inspired me with respect and a kind of fear, and at the same time with the consciousness that my husband and I were not exactly in our own place there and that our conduct must be extremely circumspect. As well as I remember, now, this severe order and the prodigious number of idle, inquisitive men and women about our house were very hard to bear: but even this sense of oppression only served to vivify our mutual love. Not only I, but he also, made an effort not to let it be seen that anything in our home was displeasing to us. Sometimes this calmness, this indulgence, this seeming indifference to everything, irritated me, and I could not help looking upon such conduct as weakness, and telling him so.

“Ah, dear Katia,” he replied, once, when I was expressing my annoyance, “how can a man show that anything, no matter what, is displeasing to him, when he is as happy as I am? It is a great deal easier to yield, than to make them yield, I have long been convinced of that,—and, moreover, of the fact there is no situation where one cannot be happy. Everything goes so well with us! I do not even know, any longer, how to get angry; for me, just now, there is nothing at all that is bad, there are only things that are either dull or droll. But, above all, ‘let well enough alone.’ You may hardly believe me, but whenever I hear a ring at the door-bell, whenever I receive a letter, actually whenever I wake in the morning, a fear takes hold of me, fear of the obligations of life, fear that something may be going to change; for nothing could be better than this present moment!”

I believed him, but I could not understand him. I was happy, but it seemed to me that all was as it ought to be, and could not be otherwise; that it was the same with every one else, and that somewhere there were other joys still, not greater ones, but quite different.

Thus two months passed by, bringing us to the cold, stormy winter, and although he was with me, I began to feel somewhat alone; I began to feel that life was doing nothing but repeating itself, as it were; that it offered nothing new either for me or for him; that, on the contrary, we seemed to be forever treading over and over again in our own footsteps. He was more frequently occupied with business matters away from me, than he had been at first, and once more I had the old feeling that far down in his soul lay a world, hidden and reserved, to which he would not admit me. His unalterable serenity irritated me. I loved him no less than formerly, was no less happy in his love; but my love remained stationary and did not seem to grow any more, and besides this love a new sentiment, full of anxiety, came creeping into my heart. Continuing to love seemed to me so small a thing after that great transport of first loving him; I felt as if my sentiments ought to include agitation, danger, sacrifice of myself. There were in me exuberant forces finding no employment in our tranquil existence, fits of depression which I sought to conceal from him as something wicked, fits of impetuous tenderness and gaiety which only alarmed him. He still had his old habit of watching me and studying my moods, and one day he came to me with a proposal to move to the city for a time; but I begged him not to go, not to alter anything whatever in our mode of life, not to touch our happiness. And, really and truly, I was happy; but I was tormenting myself because this happiness brought me no labor, no sacrifice, while, I felt all the powers of sacrifice and labor dying away within me. I loved him, I knew that I was entirely his; but I wished every one to see our love, wished that some one would try to prevent my loving him,—and then to love him all the same! My mind, and even my sentiments, found their field of action, but yet there was something—the sense of youth, with its need of movement—which had no sufficient satisfaction in our placid life. Why did he tell me that we could go to the city whenever the fancy seized me to do so? If he had not said this, perhaps I might have understood that the feeling which oppressed me was a pernicious chimera, a fault of which I was guilty.... But the thought kept coming into my head that simply by going to the city, I could escape from my ennui; but then, on the other hand, this would be withdrawing him from a life that he loved; I was ashamed to do this, but it cost me something not to do it.

Time went on, the snow piled higher and higher against the walls of the house, and we were always alone, still alone, always with each other, while away yonder,—I knew not where, but yonder somewhere,—in stir and motion, in splendor and excitement, was the crowd, feeling, suffering, rejoicing, amusing itself, without one thought of us and our vanished existence. Worst of all to me was the consciousness that day by day the chain of habit was binding and pressing our life closer into its narrow mold, that our love itself would enter into bondage and become subject to the monotonous and dispassionate law of time. To be cheerful in the morning, respectful at dinner, affectionate in the evening! “To do good!” I said to myself, it is all very well and admirable to do good, and to live a worthy life, as he says; but we have yet time enough for that; there are other things for which, to-day, I feel powers within me. This is not what I wanted; what I wanted was combat, struggle; was to feel that love is our guide in life, not that life guides our love. I could have wished to draw near to the abyss with him, to say to him: “One more step, and I dash myself down, one more movement and I perish;” he, while paling on the brink of this abyss, he would have seized me with his powerful hand, held me there suspended above the gulf, my heart faint with fear,—and then he might have borne me whithersoever he would!

This mood of my soul began to tell upon my health, my nerves began to be out of order. One morning I felt even more upset than usual, and Sergius returned home in rather a bad temper, which was an extremely rare occurrence with him; I noticed it at once, and asked him what was the matter, but he would not tell me, only remarking that it was not worth while. As I afterwards learned, the ispravnik,[7] from ill-will to my husband, had summoned several peasants, made some illegal exaction of them, and had even uttered menaces against him. My husband had not yet been able to look into the matter and, moreover, as it was but a piece of absurd impertinence he had not cared to tell me of it; but I imagined that his not telling me was because he considered me a child, and that in his eyes I was incapable of understanding what interested him. I turned from him in silence, without saying a word; he went into his study, gravely, and shut his door after him. When I could no longer hear him, I sat down on a divan, almost crying. “Why,” said I to myself, “does he persist in humiliating me by his solemn calmness, by being always in the right? Am I not in the right also, when I am wearied, when everywhere I feel emptiness, when I long to live, to move, not to stay forever in one place and feel time walk over me? I wish to go onward, each day, each hour; I wish for something new, while he,—he wants to stand still in one spot, and keep me standing there with him! And yet how easy it would be for him to satisfy me! He need not take me to the city, it would only be necessary for him to be a little like me, for him to stop trying to constrain and crush himself with his own hands, for him to live naturally. That is what he is always advising me, and it is he who is not natural, that is all.”

I felt my tears getting the mastery of me, and my irritation against him increasing. I was afraid of this irritation, and I went to find him. He was sitting in his study, writing. Hearing my steps, he turned for an instant, looked at me with a calm and indifferent air, and continued writing; this look did not please me, and instead of going up to him, I stopped near the table where he was writing and, opening a book, began to run my eyes over the page. He turned then, a second time, and looked at me again:

“Katia, you are not as bright as usual!”

I only responded by a cold glance, meant to convey: “And why? And why so much amiability?” He shook his head at me, and smiled timidly and tenderly; but, for the first time, my smile would not answer his.

“What was the matter with you this morning?” I asked, “why would you tell me nothing?”

“It was a trifle! a slight worry,” he replied. “I can tell you all about it, now. Two peasants had been summoned to the city....”

But I would not let him finish.

“Why did you not tell me when I asked you?”

“I might have said something foolish, I was angry then.”

“That was just the time to tell me.”

“And why so?”

“What you think, then, is that I never can help you in anything?”

“What I think?” said he, throwing down his pen. “I think that without you I could not live. In all things, in all, not only are you a help to me, but it is by you that everything is done. You are literally to me ‘well-fallen,’” he went on smiling. “It is in you alone that I live; it seems to me nothing is good but because you are there, because you must....”

“Yes, I know it, I am a nice little child who has to be petted and kept quiet,” said I, in such a tone that he looked at me in amazement. “But I do not want this quieting; I have had enough of it!”

“Come, let me tell you about this morning’s trouble,” he said hastily, as if he was afraid to give me time to say more: “let us see what you think of it!”

“I do not wish to hear it now,” I replied.

I really did want to hear it, but it was more agreeable to me, at this moment, to disturb his tranquility.

“I do not wish to play with the things of life; I wish to live,” I added; “like you.”

His face, which always so clearly and so readily reflected every impression, wore a look of suffering and intense attention.

“I wish to live with you in perfect equality....”

But I could not finish, such profound pain was on his face. He was silent an instant.

“And in what do you not live with me on a footing of equality?” he said: “it is I, not you, that is concerned in this affair of the ispravnik and some drunken peasants.”

“Yes, but it is not only this case,” said I.

“For the love of God, do understand me, my darling,” he continued; “I know how painful a thing care is for us all; I have lived, and I know it. I love you, therefore I would spare you every care. My life is centered in my love for you; so do not prevent my living!”

“You are always right,” said I, without looking at him.

I could not bear to see him once more serene and tranquil, while I was so full of anger and a feeling somewhat resembling repentance.

“Katia! What is the matter with you?” said he. “The question is not in the least which of us two is in the right, what we were talking about is something entirely different! What have you against me? Do not tell me at once; reflect, and then tell me all that is in your thoughts. You are displeased with me, you have, no doubt, a reason, but explain to me in what I am to blame.”

But how could I tell him all that I had in the bottom of my heart? The thought that he had seen through me at once, that again I found myself as a child before him, that I could do nothing that he did not comprehend and foresee, excited me more than ever.

“I have nothing against you,” said I, “but I am tired, and I do not like ennui. You say that this must be so, and, of course, once more you are right!”

As I spoke, I looked in his face. My object was attained; his serenity had disappeared; alarm and pain were stamped upon his face.

“Katia!” he began, in a low, agitated voice, “this is no jesting we are engaged in, at this moment. Our fate is being decided. I ask you to say nothing, only to hear me. Why are you torturing me thus?”

But I broke in.

“Say no more, you are right,” said I, coldly, as if it were not I, but some evil spirit speaking with my lips.

“If you knew what you are doing!” he exclaimed in a trembling voice.

I began to cry, and I felt my heart somewhat relieved. He was sitting near me, silent. I was sorry for him, ashamed of myself, troubled by what I had done. I did not look at him. I felt sure that he was looking at me, and that his eyes were perplexed or severe. I turned; his eyes were indeed fixed upon me, but they were kind and gentle and seemed entreating forgiveness. I took his hand, and said:

“Pardon me! I do not know, myself, what I said.”

“Yes, but I know what you said, and I know that you spoke the truth.”

“What truth?” I asked.

“That we must go to St. Petersburg. This is no longer the place for us.”

“As you wish.”

He took me in his arms and kissed me.

“You forgive me?” he said, “I have been to blame concerning you....”

In the evening I was at the piano a long time playing for him, while he walked up and down the room, repeating something in a low tone to himself. This was a habit with him, and I often asked him what he was murmuring thus, and he, still thoughtful, would repeat it again to me; generally it was poetry, sometimes some really absurd thing, but even the very absurdity would show me what frame of mind he was in.

“What are you murmuring there, now?” I asked after a time.

He stood still, thought a little, then, smiling, repeated the two lines from Lermontoff:

“And he, the madman, invoked the tempest,
As if, in the tempest, peace might reign!”

“Yes, he is more than a man; he sees everything!” thought I; “how can I help loving him!”

I left the piano, took hold of his hand, and began to walk up and down with him, measuring my steps by his.

“Well!” he said, looking down at me with a smile.

“Well!” I echoed; and our two hearts seemed to spring to each other once more.

At the end of a fortnight, before the fêtes, we were in St. Petersburg.