Family Happiness, by Leo Tolstoy

Chapter 3

One day when the corn was being carried, I went with Katya and Sonya to our favorite seat in the garden, in the shade of the lime trees and above the dell, beyond which the fields and woods lay open before us. It was three days since Sergey Mikhaylych had been to see us; we were expecting him, all the more because our bailiff reported that he had promised to visit the harvest field. At two o’clock we saw him ride on to the rye field. with a smile and a glance at me, Katya ordered peaches and cherries, of which he was very fond, to be brought; then she lay down on the bench and began to doze. I tore off a crooked flat lime tree branch, which made my hand wet with its juicy leaves and juicy bark. then I fanned Katya with it and went on with my book, breaking off from time to time, to look at the field path along which he must come. Sonya was making a dolls’ house at the root of an old lime tree. The day was sultry, windless, and steaming; the clouds were packing and growing blacker; all morning a thunderstorm had been gathering, and I felt restless, as I always did before thunder. But by afternoon the clouds began to part, the sun sailed out into a clear sky, and only in one quarter was there a faint fumbling. A single heavy cloud, lowering above the horizon and mingling with the dust from the fields, was rent from time to time by pale zigzags of lightning which ran down to the ground. It was clear that for today the storm would pass off, with us at all events. The road beyond the garden was visible in places, and we could see a procession of high creaking carts slowly moving along it with their load of sheaves, while the empty carts rattled at a faster pace to meet them, with swaying legs and shirts fluttering in them. The thick dust neither blew away nor settled down — it stood still beyond the fence, and we could see it through the transparent foliage of the garden trees. A little farther off, in the stackyard, the same voices and the same creaking of wheels were audible; and the same yellow sheaves that had moves slowly past the fence were now flying aloft, and I could see the oval stacks gradually rising higher, and their conspicuous pointed tops, and the laborers swarming upon them. On the dusty field in front more carts were moving and more yellow sheaves were visible; and the noise of the carts, with the sound of talking and singing, came to us from a distance. At one side the bare stubble, with strips of fallow covered with wormwood, came more and more into view. Lower down, to the right, the gay dresses of the women were visible, as they bent down and swung their arms to bind the sheaves. Here the bare stubble looked untidy; but the disorder was cleared by degrees, as the pretty sheaves were ranged at close intervals. It seemed as if summer had suddenly turned to autumn before my eyes. The dust and heat were everywhere, except in our favorite nook in the garden; and everywhere, in this heat and dust and under the burning sun, the laborers carried on their heavy task with talk and noise.

Meanwhile Katya slept so sweetly on our shady bench, beneath her white cambric handkerchief, the black juicy cherries glistened so temptingly on the plate, our dresses were so clean and fresh, the water in the jug was so bright with rainbow colors in the sun, and I felt so happy. “How can I help it?” I thought; “am I to blame for being happy? And how can I share my happiness? How and to whom can I surrender all myself and all my happiness?”

By this time the sun had sunk behind the tops of the birch avenue, the dust was settling on the fields, the distance became clearer and brighter in the slanting light. The clouds had dispersed altogether; I could see through the trees the thatch of three new corn stacks. The laborers came down off the stacks; the carts hurried past, evidently for the last time, with a loud noise of shouting; the women, with rakes over their shoulders and straw bands in their belts, walked home past us, singing loudly; and still there was no sign of Sergey Mikhaylych, though I had seen him ride down the hill long ago. Suddenly he appeared upon the avenue, coming from a quarter where I was not looking for him. He had walked round by the dell. He came quickly towards me, with his hat off and radiant with high spirits. Seeing that Katya was asleep, he bit his lip, closed his eyes, and advanced on tiptoe; I saw at once that he was in that peculiar mood of causeless merriment which I always delighted to see in him, and which we called “wild ecstasy”. He was just like a schoolboy playing truant; his whole figure, from head to foot, breathed content, happiness, and boyish frolic.

“Well, young violet, how are you? All right?” he said in a whisper, coming up to me and taking my hand. Then, in answer to my question, “Oh, I’m splendid today, I feel like a boy of thirteen — I want to play at horses and climb trees.”

“Is it wild ecstasy?” I asked, looking into his laughing eyes, and feeling that the “wild ecstasy” was infecting me.

“Yes,” he answered, winking and checking a smile. “But I don’t see why you need hit Katerina Karlovna on the nose.”

With my eyes on him I had gone on waving the branch, without noticing that I had knocked the handkerchief off Katya’s face and was now brushing her with the leaves. I laughed.

“She will say she was awake all the time,” I whispered, as if not to awake Katya; but that was not my real reason — it was only that I liked to whisper to him.

He moved his lips in imitation of me, pretending that my voice was too low for him to hear. Catching sight of the dish of cherries, he pretended to steal it, and carried it off to Sonya under the lime tree, where he sat down on her dolls. Sonya was angry at first, but he soon made his peace with her by starting a game, to see which of them could eat cherries faster.

“If you like, I will send for more cherries,” I said; “or let us go ourselves.”

He took the dish and set the dolls on it, and we all three started for the orchard. Sonya ran behind us, laughing and pulling at his coat, to make him surrender the dolls. He gave them up and then turned to me, speaking more seriously.

“You really are a violet,” he said, still speaking low, though there was no longer any fear of waking anybody; “when I came to you out of all that dust and heat and toil, I positively smelt violets at once. But not the sweet violet — you know, that early dark violet that smells of melting snow and spring grass.”

“Is harvest going on well?” I asked, in order to hide the happy agitation which his words produced in me.

“First rate! Our people are always splendid. The more you know them, the better you like them.”

“Yes,” I said; “before you came I was watching them from the garden, and suddenly I felt ashamed to be so comfortable myself while they were hard at work, and so . . .”

He interrupted me, with a kind but grave look: “Don’t talk like that, my dear; it is too sacred a matter to talk of lightly. God forbid that you should use fine phrases about that!”

“But it is only to you I say this.”

“All right, I understand. But what about those cherries?”

The orchard was locked, and no gardener to be seen: he had sent them all off to help with the harvest. Sonya ran to fetch the key. But he would not wait for her: climbing up a corner of the wall, he raised the net and jumped down on the other side.

His voice came over the wall — “If you want some, give me the dish.”

“No,” I said; “I want to pick for myself. I shall fetch the key; Sonya won’t find it.”

But suddenly I felt that I must see what he was doing there and what he looked like — that I must watch his movements while he supposed that no one saw him. Besides I was simply unwilling just then to lose sight of him for a single minute. running on tiptoe through the nettles to the other side of the orchard where the wall was lower, I mounted on an empty cask, till the top of the wall was on a level with my waist, and then leaned over into the orchard. I looked at the gnarled old trees, with their broad dented leaves and the ripe black cherries hanging straight and heavy among the foliage; then I pushed my head under the net, and from under the knotted bough of an old cherry tree I caught sight of Sergey Mikhaylych. He evidently thought that I had gone away and that no one was watching him. With his hat off and his eyes shut, he was sitting on the fork of an old tree and carefully rolling into a ball a lump of cherry tree gum. Suddenly he shrugged his shoulders, opened his eyes, muttered something, and smiled. Both words and smile were so unlike him that I felt ashamed of myself for eavesdropping. It seemed to me that he had said, “Masha!” “Impossible,” i thought. “Darling Masha!” he said again, in a lower and more tender tone. There was possible doubt about the two words this time. My heart beat hard, and such a passionate joy — illicit joy, as I felt — took hold of me, that I clutched at the wall, fearing to fall and betray myself. Startled by the sound of my movement, he looked round — he dropped his eyes instantly, and his face turned red, even scarlet, like a child’s. He tried to speak, but in vain; again and again his face positively flamed up. Still he smiled as he looked at me, and I smiled too. Then his whole face grew radiant with happiness. He had ceased to be the old uncle who spoiled or scolded me; he was a man on my level, who loved and feared me as I loved and feared him. We looked at one another without speaking. But suddenly he frowned; the smile and light in his eyes disappeared, and he resumed his cold paternal tone, just as if we were doing something wrong and he was repenting and calling on me to repent.

“You had better get down, or you will hurt yourself,” he said; “and do put your hair straight; just think what you look like?”

“What makes him pretend? what makes him want to give me pain?” I thought in my vexation. And the same instant brought an irresistible desire to upset his composure again and test my power over him.

“No,” I said; “I mean to pick for myself.” I caught hold of the nearest branch and climbed to the top of the wall; then, before he had time to catch me, I jumped down on the other side.

“What foolish things you do!” he muttered, flushing again and trying to hide his confusion under a pretence of annoyance; “you might really have hurt yourself. But how do you mean to get out of this?”

He was even more confused than before, but this time his confusion frightened rather than pleased me. It infected me too and made me blush; avoiding his eye and not knowing what to say, I began to pick cherries though I had nothing to put them in. I reproached myself, I repented of what I had done, I was frightened; I felt that I had lost his good opinion for ever by my folly. Both of us were silent and embarrassed. From this difficult situation Sonya rescued us by running back with the key in her hand. For some time we both addressed our conversation to her and said nothing to each other. When we returned to Katya, who assured us that she had never been asleep and was listening all the time, I calmed down, and he tried to drop into his fatherly patronizing manner again, but I was not taken in by it. A discussion which we had had some days before came back clear before me.

Katya had been saying that it was easier for a man to be in love and declare his love than for a woman.

“A man may say that he is in love, and a woman can’t,” she said.

“I disagree,” said he; “a man has no business to say, and can’t say that he is in love.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“Because it never can be true. What sort of a revelation is that, that a man is in love? A man seems to think that whenever he says the word, something will go pop! — that some miracle will be worked, signs and wonders, with all the big guns firing at once! In my opinion,” he went on, “whoever solemnly brings out the words “I love you” is either deceiving himself or, which is even worse, deceiving others.”

“Then how is a woman to know that a man is in love with her, unless he tells her?” asked Katya.

“That I don’t know,” he answered; “every man has his own way of telling things. If the feeling exists, it will out somehow. But when I read novels, I always fancy the crestfallen look of Lieut. Strelsky or Alfred, when he says, “I love you, Eleanora”, and expects something wonderful to happen at once, and no change at all takes place in either of them — their eyes and their noses and their whole selves remain exactly as they were.”

Even then I had felt that this banter covered something serious that had reference to myself. But Katya resented his disrespectful treatment of the heroes in novels.

“You are never serious,” she said; “but tell me truthfully, have you never yourself told a woman that you loved her?”

“Never, and never gone down on one knee,” he answered, laughing; “and never will.”

This conversation I now recalled, and i reflected that there was no need for him to tell me that he loved me. “I know that he loves me,” I thought, “and all his endeavors to seem indifferent will not change my opinion.”

He said little to me throughout the evening, but in every word he said to Katya and Sonya and in every look and movement of his I saw love and felt no doubt of it. I was only vexed and sorry for him, that he thought it necessary still to hide his feelings and pretend coldness, when it was all so clear, and when it would have been so simple and easy to be boundlessly happy. But my jumping down to him in the orchard weighed on me like a crime. I kept feeling that he would cease to respect me and was angry with me.

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

“Play me something — it is long since I heard you,” he said, catching me up in the parlor.

“I was just going to,” I said. Then I looked straight in his face and said quickly, “Sergey Mikhaylych, you are not angry with me, are you?”

“What for?” he asked.

“For not obeying you this afternoon,” I said, blushing.

He understood me: he shook his head and made a grimace, which implied that I deserved a scolding but that he did not feel able to give it.

“So it’s all right, and we are friends again?” I said, sitting down at the piano.

“Of course!” he said.

In the drawing room, a large lofty room, there were only two lighted candles on the piano, the rest of the room remaining in half-darkness. Outside the open windows the summer night was bright. All was silent, except when the sound of Katya’s footsteps in the unlighted parlor was heard occasionally, or when his horse, which was tied up under the window, snorted or stamped his hoof on the burdocks that grew there. He sat behind me, where I could not see him; but everywhere — in the half-darkness of the room, in every sound, in myself — I felt his presence. Every look, every movement of his, though I could not see them, found an echo in my heart. I played a sonata of Mozart’s which he had brought me and which I had learnt in his presence and for him. I was not thinking at all of what I was playing, but I believe that I played it well, and I thought that he was pleased. I was conscious of his pleasure, and conscious too, though I never looked at him, of the gaze fixed on me from behind. Still moving my fingers mechanically. I turned round quite involuntarily and looked at him. The night had grown brighter, and his head stood out on a background of darkness. He was sitting with his head propped on his hands, and his eyes shone as they gazed at me. Catching his look, I smiled and stopped playing. He smiled too and shook his head reproachfully at the music, for me to go on. When I stopped, the moon had grown brighter and was riding high in the heavens; and the faint light of the candles was supplemented by a new silvery light which came in through the windows and fell on the floor. Katya called out that it was really too bad — that I had stopped at the best part of the piece, and that I was playing badly. But he declared that I had never played so well; and then he began to walk about the rooms — through the drawing room to the unlighted parlor and back again to the drawing room, and each time he looked at me and smiled. I smiled too; I wanted even to laugh with no reason; I was so happy at something that had happened that very day. Katya and I were standing by the piano; and each time that he vanished through the drawing room door, I started kissing her in my favorite place, the soft part of her neck under the chin; and each time he came back, I made a solemn face and refrained with difficulty from laughing.

“What is the matter with her today?” Katya asked him.

He only smiled at me without answering; he knew what was the matter with me.

“Just look what a night it is!” he called out from the parlor, where he had stopped by the open French window looking into the garden.

We joined him; and it really was such a night as I have never seen since. The full moon shone above the house and behind us, so that we could not see it, and half the shadow, thrown by the roof and pillars of the house and by the veranda awning, lay slanting and foreshortened on the gravel-path and the strip of turf beyond. Everything else was bright and saturated with the silver of the dew and the moonlight. The broad garden path, on one side of which the shadows of the dahlias and their supports lay aslant, all bright and cold, and shining on the inequalities of the gravel, ran on till it vanished in the mist. Through the trees the roof of the greenhouse shone bright, and a growing mist rose from the dell. The lilac bushes, already partly leafless, were all bright to the center. Each flower was distinguishable apart, and all were drenched with dew. In the avenues light and shade were so mingled that they looked, not like paths and trees but like transparent houses, swaying and moving. To our right, in the shadow of the house, everything was black, indistinguishable, and uncanny. But all the brighter for the surrounding darkness was the top of a poplar, with a fantastic crown of leaves, which for some strange reason remained there close to the house, towering into the bright light, instead of flying away into the dim distance, into the retreating dark blue of the sky.

“Let us go for a walk,” I said.

Katya agreed, but said I must put on galoshes.

“I don’t want them, Katya,” I said; “Sergey Mikhaylych will give me his arm.”

As if that would prevent me from wetting my feet! But to us three this seemed perfectly natural at the time. Though he never used to offer me his arm, I now took it of my own accord, and he saw nothing strange in it. We all went down from the veranda together. That whole world, that sky, that garden, that air, were different from those that I knew.

We were walking along an avenue, and it seemed to me, whenever I looked ahead, that we could go no farther in the same direction, that the world of the possible ended there, and that the whole scene must remain fixed for ever in its beauty. But we still moved on, and the magic wall kept parting to let us in; and still we found the familiar garden with trees and paths and withered leaves. And we were really walking along the paths, treading on patches of light and shade; and a withered leaf was really crackling under my foot, and a live twig brushing my face. And that was really he, walking steadily and slowly at my side, and carefully supporting my arm; and that was really Katya walking beside us with her creaking shoes. And that must be the moon in the sky, shining down on us through the motionless branches.

But at each step the magic wall closed up again behind us and in front, and I ceased to believe in the possibility of advancing father — I ceased to believe in the reality of it all.

“Oh, there’s a frog!” cried Katya.

“Who said that? and why?” I thought. But then I realized it was Katya, and that she was afraid of frogs. Then I looked at the ground and saw a little frog which gave a jump and then stood still in front of me, while its tiny shadow was reflected on the shining clay of the path.

“You’re not afraid of frogs, are you?” he asked.

I turned and looked at him. Just where we were there was a gap of one tree in the lime avenue, and I could see his face clearly — it was so handsome and so happy!

Though he had spoken of my fear of frogs, I knew that he meant to say, “I love you, my dear one!” “I love you, I love you” was repeated by his look, by his arm; by the light, the shadow, and the air all repeated the same words.

We had gone all round the garden. Katya’s short steps had kept up with us, but now she was tired and out of breath. She said it was time to go in; and I felt very sorry for her. “Poor thing!” I thought; “why does not she feel as we do? why are we not all young and happy, like this night and like him and me?”

We went in, but it was a long time before he went away, though the cocks had crowed, and everyone in the house was asleep, and his horse, tethered under the window, snorted continually and stamped his hoof on the burdocks. Katya never reminded us of the hour, and we sat on talking of the merest trifles and not thinking of the time, till it was past two. The cocks were crowing for the third time and the dawn was breaking when he rode away. He said good by as usual and made no special allusion; but I knew that from that day he was mine, and that I should never lose him now. As soon as I had confessed to myself that I loved him, I took Katya into my confidence. She rejoiced in the news as was touched by my telling her; but she was actually able — poor thing! — to go to bed and sleep! For me, I walked for a long, long time about the veranda; then I went down to the garden where, recalling each word, each movement, I walked along the same avenues through which I had walked with him. I did not sleep at all that night, and saw sunrise and early dawn for the first time in my life. And never again did I see such a night and such a morning. “Only why does he not tell me plainly that he loves me?” I thought; “what makes him invent obstacles and call himself old, when all is so simple and so splendid? What makes him waste this golden time which may never return? Let him say “I love you” — say it in plain words; let him take my hand in his and ben over it and say “I love you”. Let him blush and look down before me; and then I will tell him all. No! not tell him, but throw my arms round him and press close to him and weep.” But then a thought came to me — “What if I am mistaken and he does not love me?”

I was startled by this fear — God knows where it might have led me. I recalled his embarrassment and mine, when I jumped down to him in the orchard; and my heart grew very heavy. Tears gushed from my eyes, and I began to pray. A strange thought occurred too me, calming me and bringing hope with it. I resolved to begin fasting on that day, to take the Communion on my birthday, and on that same day to be betrothed to him.

How this result would come to pass I had no idea; but from that moment I believed and felt sure it would be so. The dawn had fully come and the laborers were getting up when I went back to my room.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 20:04