The journey to Petersburg, a week in Moscow, visits to my own relations and my husband’s, settling down in our new quarters, travel, new towns and new faces — all this passed before me like a dream. It was all so new, various, and delightful, so warmly and brightly lighted up by his presence and his live, that our quiet life in the country seemed to me something very remote and unimportant. I had expected to find people in society proud and cold; but to my great surprise, I was received everywhere with unfeigned cordiality and pleasure, not only by relations, but also by strangers. I seemed to be the one object of their thoughts, and my arrival the one thing they wanted, to complete their happiness. I was surprised too to discover in what seemed to me the very best society a number of people acquainted with my husband, though he had never spoken of them to me; and I often felt it odd and disagreeable to hear him now speak disapprovingly of some of these people who seemed to me so kind. I could not understand his coolness towards them or his endeavors to avoid many acquaintances that seemed to me flattering. Surely, the more kind people one knows, the better; and here everyone was kind.
“This is how we must manage, you see,” he said to me before we left the country; “here we are little Croesueses, but in town we shall not be at all rich. So we must not stay after Easter, or go into society, or we shall get into difficulties. For your sake too I should not wish it.”
“Why should we go into society?” I asked; “we shall have a look at the theaters, see our relations, go to the opera, hear some good music, and be ready to come home before Easter.”
But these plans were forgotten the moment we got the Petersburg. I found myself at once in such a new and delightful world, surrounded by so many pleasures and confronted by such novel interests, that I instantly, though unconsciously, turned my back on my past life and its plans. “All that was preparatory, a mere playing at life; but here is the real thing! And there is the future too!” Such were my thoughts. The restlessness and symptoms of depression which had troubled me at home vanished at once and entirely, as if by magic. My love for my husband grew calmer, and I ceased to wonder whether he loved me less. Indeed I could not doubt his love: every thought of mine was understood at once, every feeling shared, and every wish gratified by him. His composure, if it still existed, no longer provoked me. I also began to realize that he not only loved me but was proud of me. If we paid a call, or made some new acquaintance, or gave an evening party at which I, trembling inwardly from fear of disgracing myself, acted as hostess, he often said when it was over: “Bravo, young woman! capital! you needn’t be frightened; a real success!” And his praise gave me great pleasure. Soon after our arrival he wrote to his mother and asked me to add a postscript, but refused to let me see his letter; of course I insisted on reading it; and he had said: “You would not know Masha again, I don’t myself. Where does she get that charming graceful self-confidence and ease, such social gifts with such simplicity and charm and kindliness? Everybody is delighted with her. I can’t admire her enough myself, and should be more in love with her than ever, if that were possible.”
Now I know what I am like,” I thought. In my joy and pride I felt that I love him more than before. My success with all our new acquaintances was a complete surprise to me. I heard on all sides, how this uncle had taken a special fancy for me, and that aunt was raving about me; I was told by one admirer that I had no rival among the Petersburg ladies, and assured by another, a lady, that I might, if I cared, lead the fashion in society. A cousin of my husband’s, in particular, a Princess D., middle-aged and very much at home in society, fell in love with me at first sight and paid me compliments which turned my head. The first time that she invited me to a ball and spoke to my husband about it, he turned to me and asked if I wished to go; I could just detect a sly smile on his face. I nodded assent and felt that I was blushing.
“She looks like a criminal when confessing what she wishes,” he said with a good-natured laugh.
“But you said that we must not go into society, and you don’t care for it yourself,” I answered, smiling and looking imploringly at him.
“Let us go, if you want to very much,” he said.
“Really, we had better not.”
“Do you want to? very badly?” he asked again.
I said nothing.
“Society in itself is no great harm,” he went on; “but unsatisfied social aspirations are a bad and ugly business. We must certainly accept, and we will.”
“To tell you the truth,” I said, “I never in my life longed for anything as much as I do for this ball.”
So we went, and my delight exceeded all my expectations. It seemed to me, more than ever, that I was the center round which everything revolved, that for my sake alone this great room was lighted up and the band played, and that this crowd of people had assembled to admire me. From the hairdresser and the lady’s maid to my partners and the old gentlemen promenading the ball room, all alike seemed to make it plain that they were in love with me. The general verdict formed at the ball about me and reported by my cousin, came to this: I was quite unlike the other women and had a rural simplicity and charm of my own. I was so flattered by my success that I frankly told my husband I should like to attend two or three more balls during the season, and “so get thoroughly sick of them,” I added; but I did not mean what I said.
He agreed readily; and he went with me at first with obvious satisfaction. He took pleasure in my success, and seemed to have quite forgotten his former warning or to have changed his opinion.
But a time came when he was evidently bored and wearied by the life we were leading. I was too busy, however, to think about that. Even if I sometimes noticed his eyes fixed questioningly on me with a serious attentive gaze, I did not realize its meaning. I was utterly blinded by this sudden affection which I seemed to evoke in all our new acquaintances, and confused by the unfamiliar atmosphere of luxury, refinement, and novelty. It pleased me so much to find myself in these surroundings not merely his equal but his superior, and yet to love him better and more independently than before, that I could not understand what he could object to for me in society life. I had a new sense of pride and self-satisfaction when my entry at a ball attracted all eyes, while he, as if ashamed to confess his ownership of me in public, made haste to leave my side and efface himself in the crowd of black coats. “Wait a little!” I often said in my heart, when I identified his obscure and sometimes woebegone figure at the end of the room — “Wait till we get home! Then you will see and understand for whose sake I try to be beautiful and brilliant, and what it is I love in all that surrounds me this evening!” I really believed that my success pleased me only because it enabled me to give it up for his sake. One danger I recognized as possible — that I might be carried away by a fancy for some new acquaintance, and that my husband might grow jealous. But he trusted me so absolutely, and seemed so undisturbed and indifferent, and all the young men were so inferior to him, that I was not alarmed by this one danger. Yet the attention of so many people in society gave me satisfaction, flattered my vanity, and made me think that there was some merit in my love for my husband. Thus I became more offhand and self-confident in my behavior to him.
Oh, I saw you this evening carrying on a most animated conversation with Mme N.,” I said one night on returning from a ball, shaking my finger at him. He had really been talking to this lady, who was a well-known figure in Petersburg society. He was more silent and depressed than usual, and I said this to rouse him up.
“What is to good of talking like that, for you especially, Masha?” he said with half-closed teeth and frowning as if in pain. “Leave that to others; it does not suit you and me. Pretence of that sort may spoil the true relation between us, which I still hope may come back.”
I was ashamed and said nothing.
“Will it ever come back, Masha, do you think? he asked.
“It never was spoilt and never will be,” I said; and I really believed this then.
“God grant that you are right!” he said; “if not, we ought to be going home.”
But he only spoke like this once — in general he seemed as satisfied as I was, and I was so gay and so happy! I comforted myself too by thinking, “If he is bored sometimes, I endured the same thing for his sake in the country. If the relation between us has become a little different, everything will be the same again in summer, when we shall be alone in our house at Nikolskoye with Tatyana Semyonovna.”
So the winter slipped by, and we stayed on, in spite of our plans, over Easter in Petersburg. A week later we were preparing to start; our packing was all done; my husband who had bought things — plants for the garden and presents for people at Nikolskoye, was in a specially cheerful and affectionate mood. Just then Princess D. came and begged us to stay till the Saturday, in order to be present at a reception to be given by Countess R. The countess was very anxious to secure me, because a foreign prince, who was visiting Petersburg and had seen me already at a ball, wished to make my acquaintance; indeed this was his motive for attending the reception, and he declared that I was the most beautiful woman in Russia. All the world was to be there; and, in a word, it would really be too bad, if I did not go too.
My husband was talking to someone at the other end of the drawing room.
“So you will go, won’t you, Mary?” said the Princess.
“We meant to start for the country the day after tomorrow,” I answered undecidedly, glancing at my husband. Our eyes met, and he turned away at once.
“I must persuade him to stay,” she said, “and then we can go on Saturday and turn all heads. All right?”
“It would upset our plans; and we have packed,” I answered, beginning to give way.
“She had better go this evening and make her curtsey to the Prince,” my husband called out from the other end of the room; and he spoke in a tone of suppressed irritation which I had never heard from him before.
“I declare he’s jealous, for the first time in his life,” said the lady, laughing. “But it’s not for the sake of the Prince I urge it, Sergey Mikhaylych, but for all our sakes. The Countess was so anxious to have her.”
“It rests with her entirely,” my husband said coldly, and then left the room.
I saw that he was much disturbed, and this pained me. I gave no positive promise. As soon as our visitor left, I went to my husband. He was walking up and down his room, thinking, and neither saw nor heard me when I came in on tiptoe.
Looking at him, I said to myself: “He is dreaming already of his dear Nikolskoye, our morning coffee in the bright drawing room, the land and the laborers, our evenings in the music room, and our secret midnight suppers.” Then I decided in my own heart: “Not for all the balls and all the flattering princes in the world will I give up his glad confusion and tender cares.” I was just about to say that I did not wish to go to the ball and would refuse, when he looked round, saw me, and frowned. His face, which had been gentle and thoughtful, changed at once to its old expression of sagacity, penetration, and patronizing composure. He would not show himself to me as a mere man, but had to be a demigod on a pedestal.
“Well, my dear?” he asked, turning towards me with an unconcerned air.
I said nothing. I ws provoked, because he was hiding his real self from me, and would not continue to be the man I loved.
“Do you want to go to this reception on Saturday?” he asked.
“I did, but you disapprove. Besides, our things are all packed,” I said.
Never before had I heard such coldness in his tone to me, and never before seen such coldness in his eye.
“I shall order the things to be unpacked,” he said, “and I shall stay till Tuesday. So you can go to the party, if you like. I hope you will; but I shall not go.”
Without looking at me, he began to walk about the room jerkily, as his habit was when perturbed.
“I simply can’t understand you,” I said, following him with my eyes from where I stood. “You say that you never lose self-control” (he had never really said so); “then why do you talk to me so strangely? I am ready on your account to sacrifice this pleasure, and then you, in a sarcastic tone which is new from you to me, insist that I should go.”
“So you make a sacrifice!” he threw special emphasis on the last word. “Well, so do I. What could be better? We compete in generosity — what an example of family happiness!”
Such harsh and contemptuous language I had never heard from his lips before. I was not abashed, but mortified by his contempt; and his harshness did not frighten me but made me harsh too. How could he speak thus, he who was always so frank and simple and dreaded insincerity in our speech to one another? And what had I done that he should speak so? I really intended to sacrifice for his sake a pleasure in which I could see no harm; and a moment ago I loved him and understood his feelings as well as ever. We had changed parts: now he avoided direct and plain words, and I desired them.
“You are much changed,” I said, with a sigh. “How am I guilty before you? It is not this party — you have something else, some old count against me. Why this insincerity? You used to be so afraid of it yourself. Tell me plainly what you complain of.” “What will he say?” thought I, and reflected with some complacency that I had done nothing all winter which he could find fault with.
I went into the middle of the room, so that he had to pass close to me, and looked at him. I thought, “He will come and clasp me in his arms, and there will be an end of it.” I was even sorry that I should not have the chance of proving him wrong. But he stopped at the far end of the room and looked at me.
“Do you not understand yet?” he asked.
“No, I don’t.”
“Then I must explain. what I feel, and cannot help feeling, positively sickens me for the first time in my life.” He stopped, evidently startled by the harsh sound of his own voice.
“What do you mean?” I asked, with tears of indignation in my eyes.
“It sickens me that the Prince admired you, and you therefore run to meet him, forgetting your husband and yourself and womanly dignity; and you wilfully misunderstand what your want of self-respect makes your husband feel for you: you actually come to your husband and speak of the “sacrifice” you are making, by which you mean — “To show myself to His Highness is a great pleasure to me, but I sacrifice’ it.”
The longer he spoke, the more he was excited by the sound of his own voice, which was hard and rough and cruel. I had never seen him, had never thought of seeing him, like that. The blood rushed to my heart and I was frightened; but I felt that I had nothing to be ashamed of, and the excitement of wounded vanity made me eager to punish him.
“I have long been expecting this,” I said. “Go on. Go on!”
“What you expected, I don’t know,” he went on; “but I might well expect the worst, when I saw you day after day sharing the dirtiness and idleness and luxury of this foolish society, and it has come at last. Never have I felt such shame and pain as now — pain for myself, when your friend thrusts her unclean fingers into my heart and speaks of my jealousy! — jealousy of a man whom neither you nor I know; and you refuse to understand me and offer to make a sacrifice for me — and what sacrifice? I am ashamed for you, for your degradation! . . .Sacrifice!” he repeated again.
“Ah, so this is a husband’s power,” thought I: “to insult and humiliate a perfectly innocent woman. Such may be a husband’s rights, but I will not submit to them.” I felt the blood leave my face and a strange distension of my nostrils, as I said, “No! I make no sacrifice on your account. I shall go to the party on Saturday without fail.”
“And I hope you may enjoy it. But all is over between us two!” he cried out in a fit of unrestrained fury. “But you shall not torture me any longer! I was a fool, when I . . .”, but his lips quivered, and he refrained with a visible effort from ending the sentence.
I feared and hated him at that moment. I wished to say a great deal to him and punish him for all his insults; but if I had opened my mouth, I should have lost my dignity by bursting into tears. I said nothing and left the room. But as soon as I ceased to hear his footsteps, I was horrified at what we had done. I feared that the tie which had made all my happiness might really be snapped forever; and I thought of going back. But then I wondered: “Is he calm enough now to understand me, if I mutely stretch out my hand and look at him? Will he realize my generosity? What if he calls my grief a mere pretence? Or he may feel sure that he is right and accept my repentance and forgive me with unruffled pride. And why, oh why, did he whom I loved so well insult me so cruelly?”
I went not to him but to my own room, where I sat for a long time and cried. I recalled with horror each word of our conversation, and substituted different words, kind words, for those that we had spoken, and added others; and then again I remembered the reality with horror and a feeling of injury. In the evening I went down for tea and met my husband in the presence of a friend who was staying with us; and it seemed to me that a wide gulf had opened between us from that day. Our friend asked me when we were to start; and before I could speak, my husband answered:
“On Tuesday,” he said; “we have to stay for Countess R.‘s reception.” He turned to me: “I believe you intend to go?” he asked.
His matter-of-fact tone frightened me, and I looked at him timidly. His eyes were directed straight at me with an unkind and scornful expression; his voice was cold and even.
“Yes,” I answered.
When we were alone that evening, he came up to me and held out his hand.
“Please forget what I said to you today,” he began.
As I took his hand, a smile quivered on my lips and the tears were ready to flow; but he took his hand away and sat down on an armchair at some distance, as if fearing a sentimental scene. “Is it possible that he still thinks himself in the right?” I wondered; and, though I was quite ready to explain and to beg that we might not go to the party, the words died on my lips.
“I must write to my mother that we have put off our departure,” he said; “otherwise she will be uneasy.”
“When do you think of going?” I asked.
“On Tuesday, after the reception,” he replied.
“I hope it is not on my account,” I said, looking into his eyes; but those eyes merely looked — they said nothing, and a veil seemed to cover them from me. His face seemed to me to have grown suddenly old and disagreeable.
We went to the reception, and good friendly relations between us seemed to have been restored, but these relations were quite different from what they had been.
At the party I was sitting with other ladies when the Prince came up to me, so that I had to stand up in order to speak to him. As I rose, my eyes involuntarily sought my husband. He was looking at me from the other end of the room, and now turned away. I was seized by a sudden sense of shame and pain; in my confusion I blushed all over my face and neck under the Prince’s eye. But I was forced to stand and listen, while he spoke, eyeing me from his superior height. Our conversation was soon over: there was no room for him beside me, and he, no doubt, felt that I was uncomfortable with him. We talked of the last ball, of where I should spend the summer, and so on. As he left me, he expressed a wish to make the acquaintance of my husband, and I saw them meet and begin a conversation at the far end of the room. The Prince evidently said something about me; for he smiled in the middle of their talk and looked in my direction.
My husband suddenly flushed up. He made a low bow and turned away from the prince without being dismissed. I blushed too: I was ashamed of the impression which I and, still more, my husband must have made on the Prince. Everyone, I thought, must have noticed my awkward shyness when I was presented, and my husband’s eccentric behavior. “Heaven knows how they will interpret such conduct? Perhaps they know already about my scene with my husband!”
Princess D. drove me home, and on the way I spoke to her about my husband. My patience was at an end, and I told her the whole story of what had taken place between us owing to this unlucky party. To calm me, she said that such differences were very common and quite unimportant, and that our quarrel would leave no trace behind. She explained to me her view of my husband’s character — that he had become very stiff and unsociable. I agreed, and believed that I had learned to judge him myself more calmly and more truly.
but when I was alone with my husband later, the thought that I had sat in judgment upon him weighed like a crime upon my conscience; and I felt that the gulf which divided us had grown still greater.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01