The Kreutzer Sonata, by Leo Tolstoy

Chapter XXI.

“When we moved to Moscow, this gentleman — his name was Troukhatchevsky — came to my house. It was in the morning. I received him. In former times we had been very familiar. He tried, by various advances, to re-establish the familiarity, but I was determined to keep him at a distance, and soon he gave it up. He displeased me extremely. At the first glance I saw that he was a filthy debauche. I was jealous of him, even before he had seen my wife. But, strange thing! some occult fatal power kept me from repulsing him and sending him away, and, on the contrary, induced me to suffer this approach. What could have been simpler than to talk with him a few minutes, and then dismiss him coldly without introducing him to my wife? But no, as if on purpose, I turned the conversation upon his skill as a violinist, and he answered that, contrary to what I had heard, he now played the violin more than formerly. He remembered that I used to play. I answered that I had abandoned music, but that my wife played very well.

“Singular thing! Why, in the important events of our life, in those in which a man’s fate is decided — as mine was decided in that moment — why in these events is there neither a past nor a future? My relations with Troukhatchevsky the first day, at the first hour, were such as they might still have been after all that has happened. I was conscious that some frightful misfortune must result from the presence of this man, and, in spite of that, I could not help being amiable to him. I introduced him to my wife. She was pleased with him. In the beginning, I suppose, because of the pleasure of the violin playing, which she adored. She had even hired for that purpose a violinist from the theatre. But when she cast a glance at me, she understood my feelings, and concealed her impression. Then began the mutual trickery and deceit. I smiled agreeably, pretending that all this pleased me extremely. He, looking at my wife, as all debauches look at beautiful women, with an air of being interested solely in the subject of conversation — that is, in that which did not interest him at all.

“She tried to seem indifferent. But my expression, my jealous or false smile, which she knew so well, and the voluptuous glances of the musician, evidently excited her. I saw that, after the first interview, her eyes were already glittering, glittering strangely, and that, thanks to my jealousy, between him and her had been immediately established that sort of electric current which is provoked by an identity of expression in the smile and in the eyes.

“We talked, at the first interview, of music, of Paris, and of all sorts of trivialities. He rose to go. Pressing his hat against his swaying hip, he stood erect, looking now at her and now at me, as if waiting to see what she would do. I remember that minute, precisely because it was in my power not to invite him. I need not have invited him, and then nothing would have happened. But I cast a glance first at him, then at her. ‘Don’t flatter yourself that I can be jealous of you,’ I thought, addressing myself to her mentally, and I invited the other to bring his violin that very evening, and to play with my wife. She raised her eyes toward me with astonishment, and her face turned purple, as if she were seized with a sudden fear. She began to excuse herself, saying that she did not play well enough. This refusal only excited me the more. I remember the strange feeling with which I looked at his neck, his white neck, in contrast with his black hair, separated by a parting, when, with his skipping gait, like that of a bird, he left my house. I could not help confessing to myself that this man’s presence caused me suffering. ‘It is in my power,’ thought I, ‘to so arrange things that I shall never see him again. But can it be that I, I, fear him? No, I do not fear him. It would be too humiliating!’

“And there in the hall, knowing that my wife heard me, I insisted that he should come that very evening with his violin. He promised me, and went away. In the evening he arrived with his violin, and they played together. But for a long time things did not go well; we had not the necessary music, and that which we had my wife could not play at sight. I amused myself with their difficulties. I aided them, I made proposals, and they finally executed a few pieces — songs without words, and a little sonata by Mozart. He played in a marvellous manner. He had what is called the energetic and tender tone. As for difficulties, there were none for him. Scarcely had he begun to play, when his face changed. He became serious, and much more sympathetic. He was, it is needless to say, much stronger than my wife. He helped her, he advised her simply and naturally, and at the same time played his game with courtesy. My wife seemed interested only in the music. She was very simple and agreeable. Throughout the evening I feigned, not only for the others, but for myself, an interest solely in the music. Really, I was continually tortured by jealousy. From the first minute that the musician’s eyes met those of my wife, I saw that he did not regard her as a disagreeable woman, with whom on occasion it would be unpleasant to enter into intimate relations.

“If I had been pure, I should not have dreamed of what he might think of her. But I looked at women, and that is why I understood him and was in torture. I was in torture, especially because I was sure that toward me she had no other feeling than of perpetual irritation, sometimes interrupted by the customary sensuality, and that this man — thanks to his external elegance and his novelty, and, above all, thanks to his unquestionably remarkable talent, thanks to the attraction exercised under the influence of music, thanks to the impression that music produces upon nervous natures — this man would not only please, but would inevitably, and without difficulty, subjugate and conquer her, and do with her as he liked.

“I could not help seeing this. I could not help suffering, or keep from being jealous. And I was jealous, and I suffered, and in spite of that, and perhaps even because of that, an unknown force, in spite of my will, impelled me to be not only polite, but more than polite, amiable. I cannot say whether I did it for my wife, or to show him that I did not fear HIM, or to deceive myself; but from my first relations with him I could not be at my ease. I was obliged, that I might not give way to a desire to kill him immediately, to ‘caress’ him. I filled his glass at the table, I grew enthusiastic over his playing, I talked to him with an extremely amiable smile, and I invited him to dinner the following Sunday, and to play again. I told him that I would invite some of my acquaintances, lovers of his art, to hear him.

“Two or three days later I was entering my house, in conversation with a friend, when in the hall I suddenly felt something as heavy as a stone weighing on my heart, and I could not account for it. And it was this, it was this: in passing through the hall, I had noticed something which reminded me of HIM. Not until I reached my study did I realize what it was, and I returned to the hall to verify my conjecture. Yes, I was not mistaken. It was his overcoat (everything that belonged to him, I, without realizing it, had observed with extraordinary attention). I questioned the servant. That was it. He had come.

I passed near the parlor, through my children’s study-room. Lise, my daughter, was sitting before a book, and the old nurse, with my youngest child, was beside the table, turning the cover of something or other. In the parlor I heard a slow arpeggio, and his voice, deadened, and a denial from her. She said: ‘No, no! There is something else!’ And it seemed to me that some one was purposely deadening the words by the aid of the piano.

“My God! How my heart leaped! What were my imaginations! When I remember the beast that lived in me at that moment, I am seized with fright. My heart was first compressed, then stopped, and then began to beat like a hammer. The principal feeling, as in every bad feeling, was pity for myself. ‘Before the children, before the old nurse,’ thought I, ‘she dishonors me. I will go away. I can endure it no longer. God knows what I should do if. . . . But I must go in.’

The old nurse raised her eyes to mine, as if she understood, and advised me to keep a sharp watch. ‘I must go in,’ I said to myself, and, without knowing what I did, I opened the door. He was sitting at the piano and making arpeggios with his long, white, curved fingers. She was standing in the angle of the grand piano, before the open score. She saw or heard me first, and raised her eyes to mine. Was she stunned, was she pretending not to be frightened, or was she really not frightened at all? In any case, she did not tremble, she did not stir. She blushed, but only a little later.

“‘How glad I am that you have come! We have not decided what we will play Sunday,’ said she, in a tone that she would not have had if she had been alone with me.

“This tone, and the way in which she said ‘we’ in speaking of herself and of him, revolted me. I saluted him silently. He shook hands with me directly, with a smile that seemed to me full of mockery. He explained to me that he had brought some scores, in order to prepare for the Sunday concert, and that they were not in accord as to the piece to choose — whether difficult, classic things, notably a sonata by Beethoven, or lighter pieces.

And as he spoke, he looked at me. It was all so natural, so simple, that there was absolutely nothing to be said against it. And at the same time I saw, I was sure, that it was false, that they were in a conspiracy to deceive me.

“One of the most torturing situations for the jealous (and in our social life everybody is jealous) are those social conditions which allow a very great and dangerous intimacy between a man and a woman under certain pretexts. One must make himself the laughing stock of everybody, if he desires to prevent associations in the ball-room, the intimacy of doctors with their patients, the familiarity of art occupations, and especially of music. In order that people may occupy themselves together with the noblest art, music, a certain intimacy is necessary, in which there is nothing blameworthy. Only a jealous fool of a husband can have anything to say against it. A husband should not have such thoughts, and especially should not thrust his nose into these affairs, or prevent them. And yet, everybody knows that precisely in these occupations, especially in music, many adulteries originate in our society.

“I had evidently embarrassed them, because for some time I was unable to say anything. I was like a bottle suddenly turned upside down, from which the water does not run because it is too full. I wanted to insult the man, and to drive him away, but I could do nothing of the kind. On the contrary, I felt that I was disturbing them, and that it was my fault. I made a presence of approving everything, this time also, thanks to that strange feeling that forced me to treat him the more amiably in proportion as his presence was more painful to me. I said that I trusted to his taste, and I advised my wife to do the same. He remained just as long as it was necessary in order to efface the unpleasant impression of my abrupt entrance with a frightened face. He went away with an air of satisfaction at the conclusions arrived at. As for me, I was perfectly sure that, in comparison with that which preoccupied them, the question of music was indifferent to them. I accompanied him with especial courtesy to the hall (how can one help accompanying a man who has come to disturb your tranquillity and ruin the happiness of the entire family?), and I shook his white, soft hand with fervent amiability.

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