Leo Tolstoy Archive

Family Happiness
Chapter 7

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

Leo Tolstoy

Our house at Nikolski, so long cold and deserted, came to life again; but the thing which did not come to life was our old existence. Mama was there no longer, and henceforth we were alone, we two alone with each other. But not only was solitude no longer to us what it had once been, but we found it a burden and constraint. The winter passed all the more drearily for me from my being out of health, and it was not until some time after the birth of my second son that I recovered my strength.

My relations with my husband continued cold and friendly, as at St. Petersburg; but here in the country there was not a floor, not a wall, not a piece of furniture, which did not remind me of what he had been to me, and what I had lost. There stood between us, as it were, an offense not forgiven; one would have said that he wished to punish me for something, and that he was pretending to himself to be unconscious of it. How could I ask forgiveness without knowing for what fault? He only punished me by no longer entirely giving himself up to me, by no longer surrendering to me his whole soul; but to no one, and under no circumstances, was his soul surrendered, any more than if he had none. It sometimes came into my head that he was only making a pretense of being what he now was, in order to torment me, and that his feelings were in reality what they had formerly been, and I tried to provoke him into letting this be seen; but he invariably eluded all frank explanation; one would have said that he suspected me of dissimulation, and dreaded all manifestations of tenderness as attempts to ridicule him. His looks and his air seemed to say: “I know all, there is nothing to tell me; all that you would confide to me, I already know; I know that you talk in one manner and act in another.” At first I was hurt by his apparent fear of being frank with me, but I soon accustomed myself to the thought that in him this was not so much lack of frankness, as lack of necessity for frankness.

And on my side, my tongue was no longer capable of telling him impulsively, as in the old days, that I loved him, of asking him to read the prayers with me, of calling him to listen to my music when I was going to play; there seemed to be certain rules of formality tacitly decreed between us. We lived our own lives; he, with his various interests and occupations, in which I no longer claimed nor desired a share; I, with my idle hours, about which he no longer seemed to trouble himself. As for the children, they were still too young to be in any way a bond between us.

Spring came. Macha and Sonia returned to the country for the summer; and as Nikolski was undergoing repairs, we went with them to Pokrovski. The same old home, the terrace, the out-of-door tea-table, the piano in the half-lighted room, my own old chamber with its white curtains, and the girlish dreams which seemed to have been left behind there, forgotten. In this chamber were two beds; over one, which had been my own, I now bent nightly to bless my sturdy Kokocha,[8] in the midst of his bedtime frolics; in the other lay little Vasica,[9] his baby-face rosy with sleep, under the soft white blankets. After giving the benediction, I often lingered a long time in this peaceful chamber, and from every corner of its walls, from every fold of its curtains, came stealing around me forgotten visions of my youth; childish songs, gay choruses, floated again to my ears. And what were they now,—these visions? Were they sounding still, anywhere,—these glad and sweet old songs? All that I had hardly dared to hope had come true. My vague and confused dreams had become reality, and it was now my life, so hard, so heavy, so stripped of joy. And yet here around me were not all things as before? Was it not the same garden that I saw beneath my window, the same terrace, the same paths and benches? Far off there, across the ravine, the songs of the nightingales still seemed to rise out of the ripples of the little pond, the lilacs bloomed as they used to do, the moon still stood in white glory over the corner of the house, yet for me all was so changed, so changed! Macha and I had our old quiet talks, sitting together as of old in the salon, and we still talked of him. But Macha’s brow was grave, her face was wan, her eyes no longer shone with contentment and hope, but were full of sad sympathy, and almost expressed compassion. We no longer went into ecstasies over him, as in the past; we judged him, now; we no longer marveled at our great happiness and wondered how it came to be ours, we no longer had the impulse to tell all the world what we felt; we whispered in each other’s ear like conspirators; for the hundredth time we asked each other why all was so sad, so changed. As for him, he was still the same, except that the line between his brows was deeper, and his temples were more silvery, and his eyes, watchful, deep, continually turned away from me, were darkened by a shadow. I, too, was still the same, but I no longer felt either love or desire to love. No more wish to work, no more satisfaction with myself. And how far off, how impossible, now appeared my old religious fervor, my old love for him, my old fullness of life! I could not, now, even comprehend what in those days was so luminous and so true: the happiness of living for others. Why for others? when I no longer wished to live for myself....

I had entirely given up my music during our residence in St. Petersburg, but now my old piano and my old pieces brought back the love for it.

One day when I was not feeling well, I stayed at home, alone, while Macha and Sonia went with my husband to see the improvements at Nikolski. The tea-table was set, I went down-stairs, and, while waiting for them, seated myself at the piano. I opened the sonata Quasi una fantasia, and began to play. No living creature was to be seen or heard, the windows were open upon the garden; the familiar notes, so sad and penetrating, resounded through the room. I concluded the first part, and unconsciously, simply from old habit, I looked across to the corner where he used to sit and listen to me. But he was no longer there, a long-unmoved chair occupied his old place; from the side of the open window a projecting branch of lilac stood out against the burning west, the evening air stole quietly in. I leaned my elbows on the piano, covered my face with both hands, and fell into a fit of musing. I remained there a long time, mournfully recalling the old days, irrevocably gone, and timidly looking at the days to come. But hereafter, it seemed to me, there could be nothing, I could hope nothing, desire nothing. “Is it possible that I have outlived all that!” thought I, raising my head with horror, and in order to forget and to cease thinking, I began to play again, and still the same old andante. “My God!” I said, “pardon me if I am guilty, or give back to my soul what made its beauty ... or teach me what I ought to do,—how I ought to live!”

The sound of wheels echoed on the turf and before the door, then I heard on the terrace steady steps, well-known to me, then all was quiet. But it was no longer the old feeling which stirred in me at these familiar footsteps. They came up behind me when I had finished the sonata, and a hand was laid upon my shoulder.

“A happy thought, to play the old sonata!” he said.

I made no answer.

“Have not you had tea?”

I shook my head, without turning towards him, for I did not want him to see the traces of agitation on my face.

“They will be here presently; the horses were a little unruly, and they are coming home on foot, by the road,” he continued.

“We will wait for them,” I said, going out on the terrace, in the hope that he would follow, but he inquired for the children, and went up to see them. Once more, his presence, the sound of his voice, so kind, so honest, dissuaded me from believing that all was lost for me. “What more is there to desire?” I thought: “he is good and true, he is an excellent husband, an excellent father, and I do not myself know what is missing,—what I want.”

I went out on the balcony, and sat down under the awning of the terrace, on the same bench where I was sitting upon the day of our decisive explanation long ago. The sun was nearly down, dusk was gathering; a shade of spring softened the pure sky, where one tiny spark was already gleaming. The light wind had died away, not a leaf or blade of grass stirred; the perfume of the lilacs and cherry-trees, so powerful that one might have thought all the air itself was in bloom, came in puffs over garden and terrace, now faint and now full, making one feel an impulse to close the eyes, to shut out all sight and sound, to banish every sensation save that of inhaling this exquisite fragrance. The dahlias and rose-bushes, yet leafless, stood in still lines in the newly-dug black mold of their beds, lifting their heads above their white props. From afar came the intermittent notes of the nightingales, or the rush of their restless flight from place to place.

It was in vain that I strove to calm myself, I seemed to be waiting and wishing for something.

Sergius came from up-stairs, and sat down beside me.

“I believe it is going to rain,” he said, “they will get wet.”

“Yes,” I replied; and we were both silent.

In the meantime, the cloud, without any wind, had crept slowly and stealthily above our heads; nature was yet more perfectly tranquil, sweet, and still: suddenly one drop fell, and, so to speak, rebounded, upon the linen of the awning, another rolled, a growing ball of dust, along the path; then, with a sound like deadened hail, came the heavy dash of rain, gathering force every moment. At once, as if by concert, frogs and nightingales were silent; but the light plash of the fountain was still heard beneath the beating of the rain, and far off in the distance some little bird, no doubt safe and dry under a sheltering bough, chirped in monotonous rhythm his two recurring notes. Sergius rose to go into the house.

“Where are you going?” said I, stopping him. “It is so delightful here!”

“I must send an umbrella and some overshoes.”

“It is not necessary, this will be over directly.”

He assented, and we remained standing together by the balustrade of the balcony. I put my hand on the wet slippery rail, and leaned forward into the rain, the cool drops falling lightly on my hair and neck. The cloud, brightening and thinning, scattered in shining spray above us, the regular beat of the shower was succeeded by the sound of heavy drops falling more and more rarely from the sky or from the trees. The frogs resumed their croaking, the nightingales shook their wings and began again to respond to each other from behind the glistening shrubs, now on one side, now on another. All was serene again before us.

“How good it is to live!” he said, leaning over the balustrade and passing his hand over my wet hair.

This simple caress acted on me like a reproach, and I longed to let my tears flow.

“What more can a man need?” continued he. “I am at this moment so content, that I feel nothing wanting, and I am completely happy!”

(“You did not speak so to me when to hear it would have made my happiness,” I thought. “However great yours was, then, you used to say that you wished for more of it, still more. And now you are calm and content, when my soul is full of inexpressible repentance and unsatisfied tears!”)

“To me, too, life is good,” said I, “and it is precisely because it is so good to me, that I am sad. I feel so detached, so incomplete; I am always wanting some other thing, and yet everything here is so good, so tranquil! Can it be possible that for you no sorrow ever seems mingled with your pleasure in life?—as if, for instance, you were feeling regret for something in the past?”

He drew away the hand resting on my head, and was silent for a moment.

“Yes, that has been the case with me, formerly, particularly in the spring,” he said, as if searching his memory. “Yes, I also have spent whole nights in longings and fears,—and what beautiful nights they were!... But then all was before me, and now all is behind; now I am content with what is, and that to me is perfection,” he concluded, with such easy frankness of manner, that, painful as it was to hear, I was convinced that it was the truth.

“Then you desire nothing more?” I questioned.

“Nothing impossible,” he replied, divining my thought. “How wet you have made your head,” he went on, caressing me like a child, and passing his hand again over my hair; “you are jealous of the leaves and grass which the rain was falling on; you would like to be the grass and the leaves and the rain; while I—I enjoy simply seeing them, as I do seeing whatever is good, young, happy.”

“And you regret nothing in the past?” I persisted, with the dull weight on my heart growing heavier and heavier.

He seemed to muse for a moment, keeping silent. I saw that he wished to answer honestly.

“No!” he said, at length, briefly.

“That is not true! that is not true!” I cried, turning and facing him, with my eyes fixed upon his. “You do not regret the past?”

“No!” he repeated. “I bless it, but I do not regret it.”

“And you would not wish to go back to it?”

He turned away, looking out over the garden.

“I no more wish that than I would wish to have wings. It cannot be.”

“And you would not re-make this past? And you reproach neither yourself, nor me?”

“Never! all has been for the best.”

“Listen!” said I, seizing his hand to force him to turn towards me. “Listen! Why did you never tell me what you wished from me, that I might have lived exactly as you desired? Why did you give me a liberty which I knew not how to use? why did you cease to teach me? If you had wished it, if you had cared to guide me differently, nothing, nothing would have happened,” I went on, in a voice which more and more energetically expressed anger and reproach, with none of the former love.

“What is it that would not have happened?” said he with surprise, turning towards me. “There has been nothing. All is well, very well,” he repeated smiling.

“Can it be possible,” I thought, that he does not understand me? “or, worse still, that he will not understand me?” and my tears began to fall.

“This would have happened,—that, not having made me guilty towards you, you would not have punished me by your indifference, your contempt,” I broke out. “What would not have happened is seeing myself, with no fault on my own part, suddenly robbed by you of all that was dear to me.”

“What are you saying, my darling?” he exclaimed, as if he had not understood my words.

“No, let me finish! You have robbed me of your confidence, your love, even of your esteem, and this because I ceased to believe that you still loved me after what had taken place! No,” I went on, checking him again as he was about to interrupt me, “for once I must speak out all that has been torturing me so long! Was I to blame because I did not know life, and because you left me to find it out for myself?... And am I to blame that now,—when at last I comprehend, of myself, what is necessary in life; now, when for more than a year I have been making a struggle to return to you,—you constantly repulse me, constantly pretend not to know what I want? and things are so arranged that there is never anything for you to reproach yourself with, while I am left to be miserable and guilty? Yes, you would cast me back again into that life which must make wretchedness for me and for you!”

“And how am I doing that?” he asked, with sincere surprise and alarm.

“Did not you tell me yesterday,—yes, you tell me so perpetually,—that the life here does not suit me, and that we must go to St. Petersburg again for the winter? Instead of supporting me,” I continued, “you avoid all frankness with me, any talk that is sweet, and real. And then if I fall, you will reproach me with it, or you will make light of it!”

“Stop, stop,” he said severely and coldly; “what you are saying is not right. It only shows that you are badly disposed towards me, that you do not....”

“That I do not love you! say it! say it, then!” I exclaimed, blind with my tears. I sat down on the bench, and covered my face with my handkerchief.

“That is the way he understands me!” I thought, trying to control my choking sobs. “It is all over with our old love!” said the voice in my heart. He did not come near me, and made no attempt to console me. He was wounded by what I had said. His voice was calm and dry, as he began:

“I do not know what you have to reproach me with, except that I do not love you as I used to do!”

“As you used to love me!...” I murmured under my handkerchief, drenching it with bitter tears.

“And for that, time and ourselves are equally guilty. For each period there is one suitable phase of love....”

He was silent.

“And shall I tell you the whole truth, since you desire frankness? Just as, during that first year of our acquaintance, I spent night after night without sleep, thinking of you and building up my own love, until it grew to fill all my heart, so in St. Petersburg and while we were abroad I spent fearful nights in striving to break down and destroy this love which was my torment. I could not destroy it, but I did at least destroy the element which had tormented me; I became tranquil, and yet I continued to love you,—but it was with another love.”

“And you call that love, when it was nothing but a punishment!” I replied. “Why did you let me live in the world, if it appeared to you so pernicious that because of it you would cease to love me?”

“It was not the world, my dear, that was the guilty one.”

“Why did you not use your power? Why did you not strangle me? Murder me? That would have been better for me to-day than to have lost all that made my happiness,—it would have been better for me, and at least there would not have been the shame!”

I began to sob again, and I covered my face.

Just at that moment Macha and Sonia, wet and merry, ran up on the terrace, laughing and talking; but at the sight of us their voices were hushed, and they hurried into the house.

We remained where we were, for a long time, silent; after they were gone, I sobbed on until my tears were exhausted and I felt somewhat calmer. I looked at him. He was sitting with his head resting on his hand, and appeared to wish to say something to me in response to my glance, but he only gave a heavy sigh and put his head down again.

I went to him and drew his hand away. He turned then, and looked at me thoughtfully.

“Yes,” he said, as if pursuing his own thoughts, “for all of us, and particularly for you women, it is necessary that we should ourselves lift to our own lips the cup of the vanities of life, before we can taste life itself; no one believes the experience of others. You had not, at that time, dipped very deep into the science of those entrancing and seducing vanities. Therefore I allowed you to plunge for a moment; I had no right to forbid it, simply because my own hour for it was long since over.”

“Why did you let me live among these vanities, if you loved me?”

“Because you would not—nay, more, you could not—have believed me about them; it was necessary for you to learn for yourself; and you have learned.”

“You reasoned a great deal,” said I. “That was because you loved me so little.”

We were silent again.

“What you have just said to me is hard, but it is the truth,” he resumed, after a while, rising abruptly, and beginning to walk about the terrace; “yes, it is the truth! I have been to blame,” he went on, stopping before me.... “Either I ought not to have let myself love you at all, or I ought to have loved you more simply—yes!”

“Sergius, let us forget everything,” said I, timidly.

“No, what is gone never comes again, there can be no turning back ...” his voice softened as he spoke.

“It has already come again,” said I, laying my hand on his shoulder.

He took the hand in his, and pressed it.

“No, I was not telling the truth, when I pretended not to regret the past; no, I do regret your past love; I bitterly mourn over it,—this love, which can no longer exist. Who is to blame? I do not know. Love there may even yet be, but not the same; its place is still there, but darkened and desolated; it is without savor and without strength; the remembrance has not vanished, nor the gratitude, but....”

“Do not speak so,” I interrupted. “Let it come to life again, let it be what it was.... Might that be?” I asked, looking into his face. His eyes were serene, quiet, and met mine without their old deep look.

Even as I asked the question I felt the answer, felt that my wish was no longer possible to realize. He smiled; it seemed to me an old man’s smile, gentle and full of peace.

“How young you still are, and how old I am already!” he said. “Why delude ourselves?” he added, still with the same smile.

I remained near him, silent, and feeling my soul grow more and more tranquil.

“Do not let us try to repeat life,” he went on, “nor to lie to ourselves. But it is something, to have no longer, God willing, either disquiet or distress. We have nothing to seek for. We have already found, already shared, happiness enough. All we have to do now is to open the way,—you see to whom....” he said, pointing out little Vania, in his nurse’s arms, at the terrace door. “That is necessary, dear love,” he concluded, bending over me and dropping a kiss on my hair.

It was no longer a lover, it was an old friend who gave the caress.

The perfumed freshness of night was rising, sweeter and stronger, from the garden; the few sounds audible were solemn and far off, and soon gave way to deep tranquility; one by one the stars shone out. I looked at him, and all at once I became conscious of infinite relief in my soul; it was as if a moral nerve, whose sensitiveness had caused me keen suffering had suddenly been removed. Quietly and clearly I comprehended that the dominant sentiment of this phase of my existence was irrevocably gone, as was the phase itself, and that not only was its return impossible, but that it would be to me full of unendurable pain. There had been enough of this time; and had it indeed been so good,—this time, which to me had seemed to enclose such joys? And already it had lasted so long, so long!

“But tea is waiting,” he said, gently; and we went together to the drawing-room.

At the door I met Macha, and the nurse with Vania. I took the child in my arms, wrapped up the little bare feet, and, holding it close to my heart, barely touched its lips with a light kiss. Almost asleep as it was, it moved its little arms, stretched out the crumpled fingers, and opened its bewildered eyes, as if trying to find or remember something; all at once its eyes fell on me, a look of intelligence sparkled in them, and the pink pursed-up lips lengthened in a baby smile. “You are mine, mine!” thought I, with a delicious thrill running through me, and as I strained it to my heart I was half afraid of hurting it with my eager embrace. Over and over I kissed its cold little feet, its breast, its arms, and head with the scant covering of down. My husband came up to us, quickly drew the wrapping over the baby’s face, then, drawing it away again:

“Ivan Sergevitch!” he said with finger under the little chin.

But I, in my turn, covered up Ivan Sergevitch. No one should look at him so long, except myself. I glanced at my husband, his eyes laughed as they rested on mine, and it was long since I had met his with such happy joy.

This day ended my romance with my husband. The old love remained, and the dear remembrance of what could never come back to me; but a new love for my children and my children’s father, began another life and another way of happiness, up to this hour unending ... for at last I know that in home, and in the pure joys of home will be found—real happiness!