The Kreutzer Sonata, by Leo Tolstoy

Chapter XXVII.

“I Remember only the expression of their faces when I opened the door. I remember that, because it awakened in me a feeling of sorrowful joy. It was an expression of terror, such as I desired. Never shall I forget that desperate and sudden fright that appeared on their faces when they saw me. He, I believe, was at the table, and, when he saw or heard me, he started, jumped to his feet, and retreated to the sideboard. Fear was the only sentiment that could be read with certainty in his face. In hers, too, fear was to be read, but accompanied by other impressions. And yet, if her face had expressed only fear, perhaps that which happened would not have happened. But in the expression of her face there was at the first moment — at least, I thought I saw it — a feeling of ennui, of discontent, at this disturbance of her love and happiness. One would have said that her sole desire was not to be disturbed IN THE MOMENT OF HER HAPPINESS. But these expressions appeared upon their faces only for a moment. Terror almost immediately gave place to interrogation. Would they lie or not? If yes, they must begin. If not, something else was going to happen. But what?

“He gave her a questioning glance. On her face the expression of anguish and ennui changed, it seemed to me, when she looked at him, into an expression of anxiety for HIM. For a moment I stood in the doorway, holding the dagger hidden behind my back. Suddenly he smiled, and in a voice that was indifferent almost to the point of ridicule, he said:

“‘We were having some music.’

“‘I did not expect — ’ she began at the same time, chiming in with the tone of the other.

“But neither he nor she finished their remarks. The same rage that I had felt the previous week took possession of me. I felt the need of giving free course to my violence and ‘the joy of wrath.’

“No, they did not finish. That other thing was going to begin, of which he was afraid, and was going to annihilate what they wanted to say. I threw myself upon her, still hiding the dagger, that he might not prevent me from striking where I desired, in her bosom, under the breast. At that moment he saw . . . and, what I did not expect on his part, he quickly seized my hand, and cried:

“‘Come to your senses! What are you doing? Help! Help!’

“I tore my hands from his grasp, and leaped upon him. I must have been very terrible, for he turned as white as a sheet, to his lips. His eyes scintillated singularly, and — again what I did not expect of him — he scrambled under the piano, toward the other room. I tried to follow him, but a very heavy weight fell upon my left arm. It was she.

“I made an effort to clear myself. She clung more heavily than ever, refusing to let go. This unexpected obstacle, this burden, and this repugnant touch only irritated me the more. I perceived that I was completely mad, that I must be frightful, and I was glad of it. With a sudden impulse, and with all my strength, I dealt her, with my left elbow, a blow squarely in the face.

“She uttered a cry and let go my arm. I wanted to follow the other, but I felt that it would be ridiculous to pursue in my stockings the lover of my wife, and I did not wish to be grotesque, I wished to be terrible. In spite of my extreme rage, I was all the time conscious of the impression that I was making upon others, and even this impression partially guided me.

“I turned toward her. She had fallen on the long easy chair, and, covering her face at the spot where I had struck her, she looked at me. Her features exhibited fear and hatred toward me, her enemy, such as the rat exhibits when one lifts the rat-trap. At least, I saw nothing in her but that fear and hatred, the fear and hatred which love for another had provoked. Perhaps I still should have restrained myself, and should not have gone to the last extremity, if she had maintained silence. But suddenly she began to speak; she grasped my hand that held the dagger.

“‘Come to your senses! What are you doing? What is the matter with you? Nothing has happened, nothing, nothing! I swear it to you!’

“I might have delayed longer, but these last words, from which I inferred the contrary of what they affirmed — that is, that EVERYTHING had happened — these words called for a reply. And the reply must correspond to the condition into which I had lashed myself, and which was increasing and must continue to increase. Rage has its laws.

“‘Do not lie, wretch. Do not lie!’ I roared.

“With my left hand I seized her hands. She disengaged herself. Then, without dropping my dagger, I seized her by the throat, forced her to the floor, and began to strangle her. With her two hands she clutched mine, tearing them from her throat, stifling. Then I struck her a blow with the dagger, in the left side, between the lower ribs.

“When people say that they do not remember what they do in a fit of fury, they talk nonsense. It is false. I remember everything.

I did not lose my consciousness for a single moment. The more I lashed myself to fury, the clearer my mind became, and I could not help seeing what I did. I cannot say that I knew in advance what I would do, but at the moment when I acted, and it seems to me even a little before, I knew what I was doing, as if to make it possible to repent, and to be able to say later that I could have stopped.

“I knew that I struck the blow between the ribs, and that the dagger entered.

“At the second when I did it, I knew that I was performing a horrible act, such as I had never performed — an act that would have frightful consequences. My thought was as quick as lightning, and the deed followed immediately. The act, to my inner sense, had an extraordinary clearness. I perceived the resistance of the corset and then something else, and then the sinking of the knife into a soft substance. She clutched at the dagger with her hands, and cut herself with it, but could not restrain the blow.

“Long afterward, in prison when the moral revolution had been effected within me, I thought of that minute, I remembered it as far as I could, and I co-ordinated all the sudden changes. I remembered the terrible consciousness which I felt — that I was killing a wife, MY wife.

“I well remember the horror of that consciousness and I know vaguely that, having plunged in the dagger, I drew it out again immediately, wishing to repair and arrest my action. She straightened up and cried:

“‘Nurse, he has killed me!’

“The old nurse, who had heard the noise, was standing in the doorway. I was still erect, waiting, and not believing myself in what had happened. But at that moment, from under her corset, the blood gushed forth. Then only did I understand that all reparation was impossible, and promptly I decided that it was not even necessary, that all had happened in accordance with my wish, and that I had fulfilled my desire. I waited until she fell, and until the nurse, exclaiming, ‘Oh, my God!’ ran to her; then only I threw away the dagger and went out of the room.

“‘I must not be agitated. I must be conscious of what I am doing,’ I said to myself, looking neither at her nor at the old nurse. The latter cried and called the maid. I passed through the hall, and, after having sent the maid, started for my study.

“‘What shall I do now?’ I asked myself.

“And immediately I understood what I should do. Directly after entering the study, I went straight to the wall, took down the revolver, and examined it attentively. It was loaded. Then I placed it on the table. Next I picked up the sheath of the dagger, which had dropped down behind the sofa, and then I sat down. I remained thus for a long time. I thought of nothing, I did not try to remember anything. I heard a stifled noise of steps, a movement of objects and of tapestries, then the arrival of a person, and then the arrival of another person. Then I saw Gregor bring into my room the baggage from the railway; as if any one needed it!

“‘Have you heard what has happened?’ I asked him. ‘Have you told the dvornik to inform the police?’

“He made no answer, and went out. I rose, closed the door, took the cigarettes and the matches, and began to smoke. I had not finished one cigarette, when a drowsy feeling came over me and sent me into a deep sleep. I surely slept two hours. I remember having dreamed that I was on good terms with her, that after a quarrel we were in the act of making up, that something prevented us, but that we were friends all the same.

“A knock at the door awoke me.

“‘It is the police,’ thought I, as I opened my eyes. ‘I have killed, I believe. But perhaps it is SHE; perhaps nothing has happened.’

“Another knock. I did not answer. I was solving the question: ‘Has it happened or not? Yes, it has happened.’

“I remembered the resistance of the corset, and then. . . . ‘Yes, it has happened. Yes, it has happened. Yes, now I must execute myself,’ said I to myself.

“I said it, but I knew well that I should not kill myself. Nevertheless, I rose and took the revolver, but, strange thing, I remembered that formerly I had very often had suicidal ideas, that that very night, on the cars, it had seemed to me easy, especially easy because I thought how it would stupefy her. Now I not only could not kill myself, but I could not even think of it.

“‘Why do it?’ I asked myself, without answering.

“Another knock at the door.

“‘Yes, but I must first know who is knocking. I have time enough.’

“I put the revolver back on the table, and hid it under my newspaper. I went to the door and drew back the bolt.

“It was my wife’s sister — a good and stupid widow.

“‘Basile, what does this mean?’ said she, and her tears, always ready, began to flow.

“‘What do you want?’ I asked roughly.

“I saw clearly that there was no necessity of being rough with her, but I could not speak in any other tone.

“‘Basile, she is dying. Ivan Fedorowitch says so.’

“Ivan Fedorowitch was the doctor, HER doctor, her counsellor.

“‘Is he here?’ I inquired.

“And all my hatred of her arose anew.

“Well, what?

“‘Basile, go to her! Ah! how terrible it is!’ said she.

“‘Go to her?’ I asked myself; and immediately I made answer to myself that I ought to go, that probably that was the thing that is usually done when a husband like myself kills his wife, that it was absolutely necessary that I should go and see her.

“‘If that is the proper thing, I must go,’ I repeated to myself. ‘Yes, if it is necessary, I shall still have time,’ said I to myself, thinking of my intention of blowing my brains out.

“And I followed my sister-in-law. ‘Now there are going to be phrases and grimaces, but I will not yield,’ I declared to myself.

“‘Wait,’ said I to my sister-in-law, ‘it is stupid to be without boots. Let me at least put on my slippers.’

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