Leo Tolstoy Archive

Family Happiness
Chapter 8

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

Leo Tolstoy

I had been very unwell before we left St. Petersburg, and instead of going home we moved into a villa at a short distance from the city, where my husband left me while he went to see his mother. I was then quite well enough to accompany him, but he urged me not to do so, alleging as his reason my state of health. I quite understood that he was not really afraid of my health, but he was possessed by the idea that it would not be good for us to be in the country; I did not insist very strenuously, and remained where I was. Without him I felt myself truly in the midst of emptiness and isolation; but when he returned I perceived that his presence no longer added to my life what it had been wont to add. Those former relations, when any thought, any sensation, not communicated to him, oppressed me like a crime; when all his actions, all his words, appeared to me models of perfection; when, from sheer joy, we would laugh at nothing, looking at each other; those relations had so insensibly changed into something quite different, that we ourselves hardly admitted the transformation. But the fact was that each of us had now separate occupations and interests, which we no longer sought to share. We had even ceased to be at all troubled at thus living in entirely distinct worlds, and entirely as strangers to each other. We had become habituated to this thought, and at the end of a year there was no longer the mutual embarrassment when our eyes chanced to meet. His boyishness, his outbursts of lighthearted gaiety when with me, were gone; gone, too, was that indulgent indifference, against which I had so often risen in rebellion; nor had the penetrating look survived, which, in other days, had at once disturbed and delighted me; there were no more of the prayers, no more of the hours of exaltation which we had so loved to share, and indeed we saw each other only very rarely; he was constantly out, and I no longer dreaded remaining alone, no longer complained of it; I was perpetually engrossed, on my side, with the obligations of society, and never felt any need of him whatever.

Scenes and altercations between us were quite unheard-of. I endeavored to satisfy him, he carried out all my wishes, any one would have said that we still loved each other.

When we were alone together, which was of rare occurrence, I felt neither joy, agitation, nor embarrassment, in his presence, any more than if I had been alone. I knew well that here was no new-comer, no stranger, but on the contrary, a very excellent man, in short my husband, whom I knew just as well as I knew myself. I was persuaded that I could tell beforehand all that he would do, all that he would think, precisely what view he would take of any matter, and if he did or thought otherwise I only considered that he made a mistake; I never expected anything at all from him. In one word, it was my husband, that was all. It seemed to me that things were so, and had to be so; that no other relations between us could exist, or indeed ever had existed. When he went away, especially at first, I still felt terribly lonely, and while he was absent I felt the full value of his support; when he came home, I would even throw myself in his arms with joy; but scarcely had two hours elapsed ere I had forgotten this joy, and would find that I had nothing to say to him. In these brief moments, when calm, temperate tenderness seemed to revive between us, it seemed to me that there never had been anything but this; that this alone was what had once so powerfully stirred my heart, and I thought I read in his eyes the same impression. I felt that to this tenderness there was a limit, which he did not wish to pass, and neither did I. Sometimes this caused me a little regret, but I had no time to think about it seriously, and I tried to put it out of my mind, by giving myself up to a variety of amusements of which I did not even render a clear account to myself, but which perpetually offered themselves to me. The life in the world, which, at first, had bewildered me with its splendor and the gratification it afforded to my self-love, had soon established entire dominion over my inclinations, and become at once a habit and a bondage, occupying in my soul that place which I had fancied would be the home of sentiment. Therefore I avoided being alone, dreading lest it might force me to look into and realize my condition. My whole time, from the earliest hour in the morning till the latest at night, was appropriated to something; even if I did not go out, there was no time that I left free. I found in this life neither pleasure, nor weariness, and it seemed to me it had always been thus.

In this manner three years passed away, and our relations with each other remained the same, benumbed, congealed, motionless, as if no alteration could come to them, either for better or worse. During the course of these three years there were two important events in the family, but neither brought any change to my own life. These events were the birth of my first child, and the death of Tatiana Semenovna. At first the maternal sentiment took possession of me with such power, so great and unexpected a rapture seized upon me, that I imagined a new existence was beginning; but at the end of two months, when I commenced to go into society once more, this sentiment, which had been gradually subsiding, had become nothing more than the habitual and cold performance of a duty. My husband, on the contrary, from the day of this son’s birth, had become his old self, gentle, calm, and home-loving, recalling for his child, all his former tenderness and gaiety. Often when I went in my ball-dress into the child’s nursery, to give him the evening benediction before starting and found my husband there, I would catch a glance of reproach, or a severe and watchful look fixed upon me, and I would all at once feel ashamed. I was myself terrified at my indifference towards my own child, and I asked myself: “Can I be so much worse than other women?—But what is to be done?” I questioned. “Of course I love my son, but, for all that, I cannot sit down beside him for whole days at a time, that would bore me to death; and as for making a pretense, nothing in the world would induce me to do such a thing!”

The death of my husband’s mother was a great grief to him; it was very painful to him, he said, to live after her at Nikolski, but though I also regretted her and really sympathized with his sorrow, it would have been at that time more agreeable, more restful to me, to return and make our residence there. We had passed the greater part of these three years in the city; once only had I been at Nikolski, for a visit of two months; and during the third year we had been abroad.

We passed this summer at the baths.

I was then twenty-one years of age. We were, I thought, prosperous; from my home life I expected no more than it had already given me; all the people whom I knew, it seemed to me, loved me; my health was excellent, I knew that I was pretty, my toilettes were the freshest at the baths, the weather was superb, an indefinable atmosphere of beauty and elegance surrounded me, and everything appeared to me in the highest degree delightful and joyous. Yet I was not, as lighthearted as I had been in the old days at Nikolski, when I had felt that my happiness was within myself, when I was happy because I deserved to be so, when my happiness was great but might be greater still. Now all was different; nevertheless the summer was charming. I had nothing to desire, nothing to hope, nothing to fear; my life, as it seemed to me, was at its full, and my conscience, it also seemed to me, was entirely clear.

Among the men most conspicuous at the baths during this season, there was not one whom, for any reason whatever, I preferred above the others, not even old Prince K. our ambassador, who paid me distinguished attention. One was too young, another was too old, this one was an Englishman with light curly hair, that one, a bearded Frenchman; I was perfectly indifferent to all, but, at the same time, all were indispensable to me. Insignificant as they might be, they yet belonged to, and formed a part of, this life of elegance surrounding me, this atmosphere in which I breathed. However, there was one among them, an Italian, Marquis D. who, by the bold fashion in which he showed the admiration he felt for me, had attracted my attention more than the others. He allowed no occasion to escape him of meeting me, dancing with me, appearing on horseback beside me, accompanying me to the casino, and he was constantly telling me how beautiful I was. From my window I sometimes saw him wandering around our house, and more than once the annoying persistence of the glances shot towards me from his flashing eyes had made me blush and turn away.

He was young, handsome, elegant; and one remarkable thing about him was his extraordinary resemblance to my husband, especially in his smile and something about the upper part of the face, though he was the handsomer man of the two. I was struck by the likeness, in spite of decided differences in some particulars, in the mouth for instance, the look, the longer shape of the chin; and instead of the charm given to my husband’s face by his expression of kindness and ideal calmness, there was in the other something gross and almost bestial. After a while I could not help seeing that he was passionately in love with me; I sometimes found myself thinking of him with lofty pity. I undertook to tranquilize him, and bring him down to terms of cordial confidence and friendship, but he repelled these attempts with trenchant disdain, and, to my great discomfiture, continued to show indications of a passion, silent, indeed, as yet, but momentarily threatening to break forth. Although I would not acknowledge it to myself, I was afraid of this man, and seemed, against my own will, as it were, forced to think of him. My husband had made his acquaintance, and was even more intimate with him than with most of our circle, with whom he confined himself to being simply the husband of his wife, and to whom his bearing was haughty and cold.

Towards the end of the season I had a slight illness, which confined me to the house for two weeks. The first time I went out, after my recovery, was to listen to the music in the evening, and I was at once told of the arrival of Lady C. a noted beauty, who had been expected for some time. A circle of friends quickly gathered around me, eagerly welcoming me once more among them, but a yet larger circle was forming about the new belle, and everybody near me was telling me about her and her beauty. She was pointed out to me; a beautiful and bewitching woman, truly, but with an expression of confidence and self-sufficiency which impressed me unpleasantly, and I said so. That evening, everything that usually seemed so bright and delightful was tiresome to me. The following day Lady C. organized an expedition to the castle, which I declined. Hardly any one remained behind with me, and the aspect of affairs was decidedly changed to my eyes. All, men and things, seemed stupid and dull; I felt like crying, and resolved to complete my cure as soon as possible and go home to Russia. At the bottom of my heart lurked bad, malevolent feelings, but I would not confess it to myself. I said that I was not well, making that a pretext for giving up society. I very seldom went out, and then only in the morning, alone, to drink the waters, or for a quiet walk or drive about the environs with L. M., one of my Russian acquaintances. My husband was absent at this time, having gone, some days before, to Heidelberg, to wait there until the end of my prescribed stay should allow our return to Russia, and he came to see me only now and then.

One day Lady C. had carried off most of the company on some party of pleasure, and after dinner L. M. and I made a little excursion to the castle by ourselves. While our carriage was slowly following the winding road between the double rows of chestnuts, centuries old, between whose gray trunks we saw in the distance the exquisite environs of Baden, lying in the purple light of the setting sun, we unconsciously fell into a serious strain of conversation, which had never before been the case with us. L. M., whom I had known so long, now for the first time appeared to me as a lovely intelligent woman, with whom one could discuss any topic whatever, and whose society was full of charm and interest. We talked about family duties and pleasures, children, the vacuous life led in such places as we were now in, our desire to return to Russia, to the country, and we both fell into a grave, gentle mood, which was still upon us when we reached the castle. Within its broken walls all was in deep shadow, cool and still, the summits of the towers were yet in the sunlight, and the least sound of voice or footstep reechoed among the arches. Through the doorway we saw the beautiful stretch of country surrounding Baden,—beautiful, yet to our Russian eyes, cold and stern.

We sat down to rest, silently watching the sinking sun. Presently we heard voices, they grew more distinct, and I thought I caught my own name. I listened involuntarily, and heard a few words. I recognized the voices; they were those of the Marquis D. and of a Frenchman, his friend, whom I also knew. They were talking about me and Lady C. The Frenchman was comparing one with the other, and analyzing our beauty. He said nothing objectionable, yet I felt the blood rush to my heart as he spoke. He entered into detail as to what he found attractive in both Lady C. and myself. As for me, I was already a mother, while Lady C. was but nineteen years of age; my hair was more beautiful, but Lady C.’s was more gracefully arranged; Lady C. was more the high born dame “while yours,” he said, alluding to me, “is one of the little princesses so often sent us by Russia.” He concluded by saying that it was very discreet in me not to attempt to contest the field with Lady C., for, if I did, I most assuredly would find Baden my burial-place.

This cut me to the quick.

“Unless she chose to console herself with you!” added the Frenchman with a gay, cruel laugh.

“If she goes, I shall follow,” was the coarse reply of the voice with the Italian accent.

“Happy mortal! he can still love!” commented the other, mockingly.

“Love!” the Italian was silent a moment, then went on. “I cannot help loving! Without love there is no life. To make of one’s life a romance,—that is the only good. And my romances never break off in the middle; this one, like the others, I will carry out to the end.”

“Good luck, my friend!” said the Frenchman.

I heard no more for the speakers seemed to turn the angle of the wall, and their steps receded on the other side. They descended the broken stairs, and in a few moments emerged from a side-door near us, showing much surprise at the sight of us. I felt my cheeks flame when Marquis D. approached me, and was confused and frightened at his offering me his arm upon our leaving the castle. I could not refuse it, and following L. M. who led the way with his friend, we went down towards the carriage. I was indignant at what the Frenchman had said of me, though I could not help secretly admitting that he had done nothing but put into language what I myself had already felt, but the words of the marquis had confounded and revolted me by their grossness. I was tortured by the thought of having heard them, and at the same time I had suddenly lost all fear of him. I was disgusted at feeling him so near me; without looking at him, without answering him, trying, though I still had his arm, to keep so far from him that I could not hear his whispers, I walked on quickly, close behind L. M. and the Frenchman. The marquis was talking about the lovely view, the unexpected delight of meeting me, and I know not what besides, but I did not listen to him. The whole time I was thinking about my husband, my son, Russia; divided feelings of shame and pity took hold of me, and I was possessed by a desire to hurry home, to shut myself up in my solitary room in the Hôtel de Bade, where I might be free to reflect upon all that seemed so suddenly to have risen up within my soul. But L. M. was walking rather slowly, the carriage was still some distance away, and it seemed to me that my escort was obstinately slackening our pace, as if he meant to be left alone with me. “That shall not be!” I said to myself, quickening my steps. But he undisguisedly kept me back, holding my arm with a close pressure; at this moment L. M. turned a corner of the road, and we were left alone. I was seized with alarm.

“Excuse me,” said I coldly, drawing my arm out of his, but the lace caught on one of his buttons. He stooped towards me to disengage it, and his ungloved fingers rested on my arm. A new sensation—not fright, certainly not pleasure—sent a chill shiver through me. I looked up at him, meaning my glance to express all the cold contempt I felt for him; but instead of this, he seemed to read in it only agitation and alarm. His ardent, humid eyes were fixed passionately upon me, his hands grasped my wrists, his half-open lips were murmuring to me, telling me that he loved me, that I was everything to him, his hold upon me growing stronger and closer with every word. I felt fire in my veins, my vision was obscured, I trembled from head to foot, and the words I tried to utter died away in my throat. Suddenly I felt a kiss upon my cheek; I shivered, and looked into his face again, powerless to speak or stir, expecting and wishing I knew not what.

It was only an instant. But this instant was terrible! In it I saw him as he was, I analyzed his face at a glance: low brow, straight correct nose with swelling nostrils, fine beard and mustache waxed and pointed, cheeks carefully shaven, brown neck. I hated him, I feared him, he was a stranger to me; nevertheless, at this moment, how powerfully the emotion and passion of this detestable man, this stranger, was reechoing within me!

“I love you!” was the murmur of the voice so like my husband’s. My husband and my child,—hurriedly my mind flashed to them, as beings dearly loved, once existent, now gone, lost, done with. But suddenly from around the turn of the road I heard L. M.’s voice calling me. I recovered myself, snatched away my hands without looking at him, and almost flew to rejoin her. Not until we were in the caléche did I glance back at him. He took off his hat, and said something to me—I know not what—smiling. He little knew what inexpressible torture he made me endure at that moment.

Life appeared so miserable, the future so desperate, the past so somber! L. M. talked to me, but I did not understand one word she was saying. It seemed as though she was only talking to me from compassion, and to hide the contempt she felt. I thought I read this contempt, this insulting compassion in every word, every glance. That kiss was burning into my cheek with cutting shame, and to think of my husband and child was insupportable to me. Once alone in my chamber, I hoped to be able to meditate upon my situation, but I found it was frightful to remain alone. I could not drink the tea that was brought me, and without knowing why, hurriedly I decided to take the evening train for Heidelberg, to rejoin my husband. When I was seated with my maid in the empty compartment, when the train was at last in motion, and I breathed the fresh air rushing in through the empty windows, I began to be myself again, and to think with some degree of clearness over my past and my future. All my married life, from the day of our departure for St. Petersburg, lay before me in a new light, that of awakened and accusing conscience.

For the first time, I vividly recalled the commencement of my life in the country, my plans; for the first time, the thought came to my mind: how happy he was then! And I suddenly felt guilty towards him. “But then, why not check me, why dissimulate before me, why avoid all explanation, why insult me?” I asked myself. “Why not use the power of his love? But perhaps he no longer loved me?”—Yet, whether he was to blame or not, here was this on my cheek, this kiss which I still felt. The nearer I came to Heidelberg, and the more clearly my husband’s image presented itself, the more terrible became the imminent meeting with him. “I will tell him all, all; my eyes will be blinded with tears of repentance,” thought I, “and he will forgive me.” But I did not myself know what was this “all” that I was going to tell him, nor was I absolutely sure that he would forgive me. In fact, when I entered his room and saw his face, so tranquil despite its surprise, I felt no longer able to tell him anything, to confess anything, to entreat his forgiveness for anything. An unspeakable sorrow and deep repentance were weighing me down.

“What were you thinking of?” he said: “I intended joining you at Baden to-morrow.” But a second glance at me seemed to startle him. “Is anything wrong? What is the matter with you?” he exclaimed.

“Nothing,” I replied, keeping back my tears. “I have come away ... I am not going back ... Let us go—to-morrow if we can—home to Russia!”

He was silent for some time, watching me narrowly.

“Come, tell me what has occurred,” he said, at length.

I felt my face grow scarlet, and my eyes sank. His were glittering with an indefinable foreboding, and hot anger. I dreaded the thoughts which might be assailing him, and, with a power of dissimulation of which I could not have believed myself capable, I made haste to answer:

“Nothing has occurred,—but I was overwhelmed by weariness and dejection; I was alone, I began to think of you, and of our life. How long I have been to blame towards you! After this, you may take me with you wherever you wish! Yes, I have long been to blame,” I repeated, and my tears began to fall fast. “Let us go back to the country,” I cried, “and forever!”

“Ah! my love, spare me these sentimental scenes,” said he, coldly; “for you to go to the country will be all very well, just now, for we are running a little short of money; but as for its being ‘forever,’ that is but a notion: I know you could not stay there long! Come, drink a cup of tea,—that is the best thing to do,” he concluded, rising to call a servant.

I could not help imagining what his thoughts of me doubtless were, and I felt indignant at the frightful ideas which I attributed to him as I met the look of shame and vigilant suspicion which he bent upon me. No, he will not, and he cannot comprehend me!... I told him that I was going to see the child, and left him. I longed to be alone, and free to weep, weep, weep....