My Dream by Leo Tolstoy
"As a daughter she no longer exists for me. Can't you understand?
She simply doesn't ex- ist. Still, I cannot possibly leave her to the
char- ity of strangers. I will arrange things so that she can live as
she pleases, but I do not wish to hear of her. Who would ever have
thought . . . the horror of it, the horror of it."
He shrugged his shoulders, shook his head, and raised his eyes.
These words were spoken by Prince Michael Ivanovich to his brother
Peter, who was governor of a province in Central Rus- sia. Prince
Peter was a man of fifty, Michael's junior by ten years.
On discovering that his daughter, who had left his house a year
before, had settled here with her child, the elder brother had come
from St. Peters- burg to the provincial town, where the above con-
versation took place.
Prince Michael Ivanovich was a tall, handsome, white-haired, fresh
coloured man, proud and at- tractive in appearance and bearing. His
family consisted of a vulgar, irritable wife, who wran- gled with him
continually over every petty detail, a son, a ne'er-do-well,
spendthrift and roue-- yet a "gentleman," according to his father's
code, two daughters, of whom the elder had married well, and was living
in St. Petersburg; and the younger, Lisa--his favourite, who had disap-
peared from home a year before. Only a short while ago he had found
her with her child in this provincial town.
Prince Peter wanted to ask his brother how, and under what
circumstances, Lisa had left home, and who could possibly be the father
of her child. But he could not make up his mind to in- quire.
That very morning, when his wife had at- tempted to condole with
her brother-in-law, Prince Peter had observed a look of pain on his
brother's face. The look had at once been masked by an expression of
unapproachable pride, and he had begun to question her about their
flat, and the price she paid. At luncheon, before the family and
guests, he had been witty and sarcastic as usual. Towards every one,
excepting the chil- dren, whom he treated with almost reverent ten-
derness, he adopted an attitude of distant hauteur. And yet it was so
natural to him that every one somehow acknowledged his right to be
In the evening his brother arranged a game of whist. When he
retired to the room which had been made ready for him, and was just
beginning to take out his artificial teeth, some one tapped lightly on
the door with two fingers.
"Who is that?"
"C'est moi, Michael."
Prince Michael Ivanovich recognised the voice of his sister-in-law,
frowned, replaced his teeth, and said to himself, "What does she want?"
Aloud he said, "Entrez."
His sister-in-law was a quiet, gentle creature, who bowed in
submission to her husband's will. But to many she seemed a crank, and
some did not hesitate to call her a fool. She was pretty, but her hair
was always carelessly dressed, and she herself was untidy and
absent-minded. She had, also, the strangest, most unaristocratic
ideas, by no means fitting in the wife of a high official. These ideas
she would express most unexpectedly, to everybody's astonishment, her
husband's no less than her friends'.
"Fous pouvez me renvoyer, mais je ne m'en irai pas, je vous le dis
d'avance," she began, in her characteristic, indifferent way.
"Dieu preserve," answered her brother-in-law, with his usual
somewhat exaggerated politeness, and brought forward a chair for her.
"Ca ne vous derange pas?" she asked, taking out a cigarette. "I'm
not going to say anything unpleasant, Michael. I only wanted to say
some- thing about Lisochka."
Michael Ivanovich sighed--the word pained him; but mastering
himself at once, he answered with a tired smile. "Our conversation can
only be on one subject, and that is the subject you wish to discuss "
He spoke without looking at her, and avoided even naming the subject.
But his plump, pretty little sister-in-law was unabashed. She
continued to regard him with the same gentle, imploring look in her
blue eyes, sighing even more deeply.
"Michael, mon bon ami, have pity on her. She is only human."
"I never doubted that," said Michael Ivano- vich with a bitter
"She is your daughter."
"She was--but my dear Aline, why talk about this?"
"Michael, dear, won't you see her? I only wanted to say, that the
one who is to blame--"
Prince Michael Ivanovich flushed; his face be- came cruel.
"For heaven's sake, let us stop. I have suf- fered enough. I have
now but one desire, and that is to put her in such a position that she
will be independent of others, and that she shall have no further need
of communicating with me. Then she can live her own life, and my
family and I need know nothing more about her. That is all I can do."
"Michael, you say nothing but 'I'! She, too, is 'I.'"
"No doubt; but, dear Aline, please let us drop the matter. I feel
it too deeply."
Alexandra Dmitrievna remained silent for a few moments, shaking her
head. "And Masha, your wife, thinks as you do?"
Alexandra Dmitrievna made an inarticulate sound.
"Brisons la dessus et bonne nuit," said he. But she did not go.
She stood silent a moment. Then,--
"Peter tells me you intend to leave the money with the woman where
she lives. Have you the address?"
"Don't leave it with the woman, Michael! Go yourself. Just see how
she lives. If you don't want to see her, you need not. HE isn't
there; there is no one there."
Michael Ivanovich shuddered violently.
"Why do you torture me so? It's a sin against hospitality!"
Alexandra Dmitrievna rose, and almost in tears, being touched by
her own pleading, said, "She is so miserable, but she is such a dear."
He got up, and stood waiting for her to finish. She held out her
"Michael, you do wrong," said she, and left him.
For a long while after she had gone Michael Ivanovich walked to and
fro on the square of carpet. He frowned and shivered, and ex- claimed,
"Oh, oh!" And then the sound of his own voice frightened him, and he
His wounded pride tortured him. His daugh- ter--his--brought up in
the house of her mother, the famous Avdotia Borisovna, whom the Empress
honoured with her visits, and acquaint- ance with whom was an honour
for all the world! His daughter--; and he had lived his life as a
knight of old, knowing neither fear nor blame. The fact that he had a
natural son born of a Frenchwoman, whom he had settled abroad, did not
lower his own self-esteem. And now this daughter, for whom he had not
only done every- thing that a father could and should do; this daughter
to whom he had given a splendid educa- tion and every opportunity to
make a match in the best Russian society--this daughter to whom he had
not only given all that a girl could desire, but whom he had really
LOVED; whom he had admired, been proud of--this daughter had repaid him
with such disgrace, that he was ashamed and could not face the eyes of
He recalled the time when she was not merely his child, and a
member of his family, but his darling, his joy and his pride. He saw
her again, a little thing of eight or nine, bright, intelligent,
lively, impetuous, graceful, with brilliant black eyes and flowing
auburn hair. He remembered how she used to jump up on his knees and
hug him, and tickle his neck; and how she would laugh, regardless of
his protests, and continue to tickle him, and kiss his lips, his eyes,
and his cheeks. He was naturally opposed to all demonstration, but
this impetuous love moved him, and he often submitted to her petting.
He remembered also how sweet it was to caress her. To remember all
this, when that sweet child had become what she now was, a creature of
whom he could not think without loathing.
He also recalled the time when she was growing into womanhood, and
the curious feeling of fear and anger that he experienced when he
became aware that men regarded her as a woman. He thought of his
jealous love when she came coquet- tishly to him dressed for a ball,
and knowing that she was pretty. He dreaded the passionate glances
which fell upon her, that she not only did not understand but rejoiced
in. "Yes," thought he, "that superstition of woman's purity! Quite
the contrary, they do not know shame--they lack this sense " He
remembered how, quite inexpli- cably to him, she had refused two very
good suit- ors. She had become more and more fascinated by her own
success in the round of gaieties she lived in.
But this success could not last long. A year passed, then two,
then three. She was a familiar figure, beautiful--but her first youth
had passed, and she had become somehow part of the ball- room
furniture. Michael Ivanovich remembered how he had realised that she
was on the road to spinsterhood, and desired but one thing for her. He
must get her married off as quickly as possible, perhaps not quite so
well as might have been ar- ranged earlier, but still a respectable
But it seemed to him she had behaved with a pride that bordered on
insolence. Remembering this, his anger rose more and more fiercely
against her. To think of her refusing so many decent men, only to end
in this disgrace. "Oh, oh!" he groaned again.
Then stopping, he lit a cigarette, and tried to think of other
things. He would send her money, without ever letting her see him.
But memories came again. He remembered--it was not so very long ago,
for she was more than twenty then --her beginning a flirtation with a
boy of four- teen, a cadet of the Corps of Pages who had been staying
with them in the country. She had driven the boy half crazy; he had
wept in his distraction. Then how she had rebuked her father severely,
coldly, and even rudely, when, to put an end to this stupid affair, he
had sent the boy away. She seemed somehow to consider herself
insulted. Since then father and daughter had drifted into undisguised
"I was right," he said to himself. "She is a wicked and shameless
And then, as a last ghastly memory, there was the letter from
Moscow, in which she wrote that she could not return home; that she was
a miser- able, abandoned woman, asking only to be for- given and
forgotten. Then the horrid recollec- tion of the scene with his wife
came to him; their surmises and their suspicions, which became a cer-
tainty. The calamity had happened in Finland, where they had let her
visit her aunt; and the culprit was an insignificant Swede, a student,
an empty-headed, worthless creature--and married.
All this came back to him now as he paced backwards and forwards on
the bedroom carpet, recollecting his former love for her, his pride in
her. He recoiled with terror before the incom- prehensible fact of her
downfall, and he hated her for the agony she was causing him. He
remem- bered the conversation with his sister-in-law, and tried to
imagine how he might forgive her. But as soon as the thought of "him"
arose, there surged up in his heart horror, disgust, and wounded pride.
He groaned aloud, and tried to think of something else.
"No, it is impossible; I will hand over the money to Peter to give
her monthly. And as for me, I have no longer a daughter."
And again a curious feeling overpowered him: a mixture of self-pity
at the recollection of his love for her, and of fury against her for
causing him this anguish.
DURING the last year Lisa had without doubt lived through more than
in all the preceding twenty-five. Suddenly she had realised the empti-
ness of her whole life. It rose before her, base and sordid--this life
at home and among the rich set in St. Petersburg--this animal existence
that never sounded the depths, but only touched the shallows of life.
It was well enough for a year or two, or per- haps even three. But
when it went on for seven or eight years, with its parties, balls,
concerts, and suppers; with its costumes and coiffures to display the
charms of the body; with its adorers old and young, all alike seemingly
possessed of some unaccountable right to have everything, to laugh at
everything; and with its summer months spent in the same way,
everything yielding but a superficial pleasure, even music and reading
merely touching upon life's problems, but never solving them--all this
holding out no promise of change, and losing its charm more and
more--she began to despair. She had desperate moods when she longed to
Her friends directed her thoughts to charity. On the one hand, she
saw poverty which was real and repulsive, and a sham poverty even more
re- pulsive and pitiable; on the other, she saw the ter- rible
indifference of the lady patronesses who came in carriages and gowns
worth thousands. Life became to her more and more unbearable. She
yearned for something real, for life itself--not this playing at
living, not this skimming life of its cream. Of real life there was
none. The best of her memories was her love for the little cadet Koko.
That had been a good, honest, straight- forward impulse, and now there
was nothing like it. There could not be. She grew more and more
depressed, and in this gloomy mood she went to visit an aunt in
Finland. The fresh scenery and surroundings, the people strangely
different to her own, appealed to her at any rate as a new experience.
How and when it all began she could not clearly remember. Her aunt
had another guest, a Swede. He talked of his work, his people, the
latest Swedish novel. Somehow, she herself did not know how that
terrible fascination of glances and smiles began, the meaning of which
cannot be put into words.
These smiles and glances seemed to reveal to each, not only the
soul of the other, but some vital and universal mystery. Every word
they spoke was invested by these smiles with a pro- found and wonderful
significance. Music, too, when they were listening together, or when
they sang duets, became full of the same deep meaning. So, also, the
words in the books they read aloud. Sometimes they would argue, but
the moment their eyes met, or a smile flashed between them, the
discussion remained far behind. They soared beyond it to some higher
plane consecrated to themselves.
How it had come about, how and when the devil, who had seized hold
of them both, first appeared behind these smiles and glances, she could
not say. But, when terror first seized her, the invisible threads that
bound them were already so interwoven that she had no power to tear
her- self free. She could only count on him and on his honour. She
hoped that he would not make use of his power; yet all the while she
vaguely de- sired it.
Her weakness was the greater, because she had nothing to support
her in the struggle. She was weary of society life and she had no
affection for her mother. Her father, so she thought, had cast her
away from him, and she longed passion- ately to live and to have done
with play. Love, the perfect love of a woman for a man, held the
promise of life for her. Her strong, passionate nature, too, was
dragging her thither. In the tall, strong figure of this man, with his
fair hair and light upturned moustache, under which shone a smile
attractive and compelling, she saw the prom- ise of that life for which
she longed. And then the smiles and glances, the hope of something so
incredibly beautiful, led, as they were bound to lead, to that which
she feared but unconsciously awaited.
Suddenly all that was beautiful, joyous, spir- itual, and full of
promise for the future, became animal and sordid, sad and despairing.
She looked into his eyes and tried to smile, pretending that she
feared nothing, that every- thing was as it should be; but deep down in
her soul she knew it was all over. She understood that she had not
found in him what she had sought; that which she had once known in
herself and in Koko. She told him that he must write to her father
asking her hand in marriage. This he promised to do; but when she met
him next he said it was impossible for him to write just then. She saw
something vague and furtive in his eyes, and her distrust of him grew.
The following day he wrote to her, telling her that he was already
mar- ried, though his wife had left him long since; that he knew she
would despise him for the wrong he had done her, and implored her
forgiveness. She made him come to see her. She said she loved him;
that she felt herself bound to him for ever whether he was married or
not, and would never leave him. The next time they met he told her
that he and his parents were so poor that he could only offer her the
meanest existence. She answered that she needed nothing, and was ready
to go with him at once wherever he wished. He endeavoured to dissuade
her, advising her to wait; and so she waited. But to live on with this
se- cret, with occasional meetings, and merely cor- responding with
him, all hidden from her family, was agonising, and she insisted again
that he must take her away. At first, when she returned to St.
Petersburg, be wrote promising to come, and then letters ceased and she
knew no more of him.
She tried to lead her old life, but it was im- possible. She fell
ill, and the efforts of the doc- tors were unavailing; in her
hopelessness she resolved to kill herself. But how was she to do this,
so that her death might seem natural? She really desired to take her
life, and imagined that she had irrevocably decided on the step. So,
ob- taining some poison, she poured it into a glass, and in another
instant would have drunk it, had not her sister's little son of five at
that very mo- ment run in to show her a toy his grandmother had given
him. She caressed the child, and, suddenly stopping short, burst into
The thought overpowered her that she, too, might have been a mother
had he not been mar- ried, and this vision of motherhood made her look
into her own soul for the first time. She began to think not of what
others would say of her, but of her own life. To kill oneself because
of what the world might say was easy; but the moment she saw her own
life dissociated from the world, to take that life was out of the
question. She threw away the poison, and ceased to think of sui- cide.
Then her life within began. It was real life, and despite the
torture of it, had the possibility been given her, she would not have
turned back from it. She began to pray, but there was no comfort in
prayer; and her suffering was less for herself than for her father,
whose grief she fore- saw and understood.
Thus months dragged along, and then some- thing happened which
entirely transformed her life. One day, when she was at work upon a
quilt, she suddenly experienced a strange sensa- tion. No--it seemed
impossible. Motionless she sat with her work in hand. Was it possi-
ble that this was IT. Forgetting everything, his baseness and deceit,
her mother's querulousness, and her father's sorrow, she smiled. She
shud- dered at the recollection that she was on the point of killing
it, together with herself.
She now directed all her thoughts to getting away--somewhere where
she could bear her child--and become a miserable, pitiful mother, but a
mother withal. Somehow she planned and arranged it all, leaving her
home and settling in a distant provincial town, where no one could find
her, and where she thought she would be far from her people. But,
unfortunately, her father's brother received an appointment there, a
thing she could not possibly foresee. For four months she had been
living in the house of a midwife--one Maria Ivanovna; and, on learning
that her uncle had come to the town, she was preparing to fly to a
still remoter hiding-place.
MICHAEL IVANOVICH awoke early next morning. He entered his
brother's study, and handed him the cheque, filled in for a sum which
he asked him to pay in monthly instalments to his daughter. He
inquired when the express left for St. Peters- burg. The train left at
seven in the evening, giving him time for an early dinner before leav-
ing. He breakfasted with his sister-in-law, who refrained from
mentioning the subject which was so painful to him, but only looked at
him timidly; and after breakfast he went out for his regular morning
Alexandra Dmitrievna followed him into the hall.
"Go into the public gardens, Michael--it is very charming there,
and quite near to Every- thing," said she, meeting his sombre looks
with a pathetic glance.
Michael Ivanovich followed her advice and went to the public
gardens, which were so near to Everything, and meditated with annoyance
on the stupidity, the obstinacy, and heartlessness of women.
"She is not in the very least sorry for me," he thought of his
sister-in-law. "She cannot even understand my sorrow. And what of
her?" He was thinking of his daughter. "She knows what all this means
to me--the torture. What a blow in one's old age! My days will be
short- ened by it! But I'd rather have it over than endure this agony.
And all that 'pour les beaux yeux d'un chenapan'--oh!" he moaned; and
a wave of hatred and fury arose in him as he thought of what would be
said in the town when every one knew. (And no doubt every one knew
already.) Such a feeling of rage possessed him that he would have
liked to beat it into her head, and make her understand what she had
done. These women never understand. "It is quite near Everything,"
suddenly came to his mind, and getting out his notebook, he found her
address. Vera Ivanovna Silvestrova, Kukonskaya Street, Abromov's
house. She was living under this name. He left the gardens and called
"Whom do you wish to see, sir?" asked the midwife, Maria Ivanovna,
when he stepped on the narrow landing of the steep, stuffy staircase.
"Does Madame Silvestrova live here?"
"Vera Ivanovna? Yes; please come in. She has gone out; she's gone
to the shop round the corner. But she'll be back in a minute."
Michael Ivanovich followed the stout figure of Maria Ivanovna into
a tiny parlour, and from the next room came the screams of a baby,
sounding cross and peevish, which filled him with disgust. They cut
him like a knife.
Maria Ivanovna apologised, and went into the room, and he could
hear her soothing the child. The child became quiet, and she returned.
"That is her baby; she'll be back in a minute. You are a friend of
hers, I suppose?"
"Yes--a friend--but I think I had better come back later on," said
Michael Ivanovich, pre- paring to go. It was too unbearable, this
prep- aration to meet her, and any explanation seemed impossible.
He had just turned to leave, when he heard quick, light steps on
the stairs, and he recognised Lisa's voice.
"Maria Ivanovna--has he been crying while I've been gone--I was--"
Then she saw her father. The parcel she was carrying fell from her
"Father!" she cried, and stopped in the door- way, white and
He remained motionless, staring at her. She had grown so thin.
Her eyes were larger, her nose sharper, her hands worn and bony. He
neither knew what to do, nor what to say. He forgot all his grief
about his dishonour. He only felt sorrow, infinite sorrow for her;
sorrow for her thinness, and for her miserable rough cloth- ing; and
most of all, for her pitiful face and im- ploring eyes.
"Father--forgive," she said, moving towards him.
"Forgive--forgive me," he murmured; and he began to sob like a
child, kissing her face and hands, and wetting them with his tears.
In his pity for her he understood himself. And when he saw himself
as he was, he realised how he had wronged her, how guilty he had been
in his pride, in his coldness, even in his anger towards her. He was
glad that it was he who was guilty, and that he had nothing to forgive,
but that he himself needed forgiveness. She took him to her tiny room,
and told him how she lived; but she did not show him the child, nor did
she mention the past, knowing how painful it would be to him.
He told her that she must live differently.
"Yes; if I could only live in the country," said she.
"We will talk it over," he said. Suddenly the child began to wail
and to scream. She opened her eyes very wide; and, not taking them
from her father's face, remained hesitating and motionless.
"Well--I suppose you must feed him," said Michael Ivanovich, and
frowned with the obvious effort.
She got up, and suddenly the wild idea seized her to show him whom
she loved so deeply the thing she now loved best of all in the world.
But first she looked at her father's face. Would he be angry or not?
His face revealed no anger, only suffering.
"Yes, go, go," said he; "God bless you. Yes. I'll come again
to-morrow, and we will decide. Good-bye, my darling--good-bye " Again
he found it hard to swallow the lump in his throat.
When Michael Ivanovich returned to his brother's house, Alexandra
Dmitrievna imme- diately rushed to him.
"Have you seen?" she asked, guessing from his expression that
something had happened.
"Yes," he answered shortly, and began to cry. "I'm getting old and
stupid," said he, mastering his emotion.
"No; you are growing wise--very wise."