“In order that you may understand me, I must tell you how this happened. We were living along, and all seemed well. Suddenly we began to talk of the children’s education. I do not remember what words either of us uttered, but a discussion began, reproaches, leaps from one subject to another. ‘Yes, I know it. It has been so for a long time.’ . . . ‘You said that.’ . . . ‘No, I did not say that.’ . . . ‘Then I lie?’ etc.
“And I felt that the frightful crisis was approaching when I should desire to kill her or else myself. I knew that it was approaching; I was afraid of it as of fire; I wanted to restrain myself. But rage took possession of my whole being. My wife found herself in the same condition, perhaps worse. She knew that she intentionally distorted each of my words, and each of her words was saturated with venom. All that was dear to me she disparaged and profaned. The farther the quarrel went, the more furious it became. I cried, ‘Be silent,’ or something like that.
She bounded out of the room and ran toward the children. I tried to hold her back to finish my insults. I grasped her by the arm, and hurt her. She cried: ‘Children, your father is beating me.’ I cried: ‘Don’t lie.’ She continued to utter falsehoods for the simple purpose of irritating me further. ‘Ah, it is not the first time,’ or something of that sort. The children rushed toward her and tried to quiet her. I said: ‘Don’t sham.’ She said: ‘You look upon everything as a sham. You would kill a person and say he was shamming. Now I understand you. That is what you want to do.’ ‘Oh, if you were only dead!’ I cried.
“I remember how that terrible phrase frightened me. Never had I thought that I could utter words so brutal, so frightful, and I was stupefied at what had just escaped my lips. I fled into my private apartment. I sat down and began to smoke. I heard her go into the hall and prepare to go out. I asked her: ‘Where are you going? She did not answer. ‘Well, may the devil take you!’ said I to myself, going back into my private room, where I lay down again and began smoking afresh. Thousands of plans of vengeance, of ways of getting rid of her, and how to arrange this, and act as if nothing had happened — all this passed through my head. I thought of these things, and I smoked, and smoked, and smoked. I thought of running away, of making my escape, of going to America. I went so far as to dream how beautiful it would be, after getting rid of her, to love another woman, entirely different from her. I should be rid of her if she should die or if I should get a divorce, and I tried to think how that could be managed. I saw that I was getting confused, but, in order not to see that I was not thinking rightly, I kept on smoking.
“And the life of the house went on as usual. The children’s teacher came and asked: ‘Where is Madame? When will she return?’
The servants asked if they should serve the tea. I entered the dining-room. The children, Lise, the eldest girl, looked at me with fright, as if to question me, and she did not come. The whole evening passed, and still she did not come. Two sentiments kept succeeding each other in my soul — hatred of her, since she tortured myself and the children by her absence, but would finally return just the same, and fear lest she might return and make some attempt upon herself. But where should I look for her? At her sister’s? It seemed so stupid to go to ask where one’s wife is. Moreover, may God forbid, I hoped, that she should be at her sister’s! If she wishes to torment any one, let her torment herself first. And suppose she were not at her sister’s.
Suppose she were to do, or had already done, something.
“Eleven o’clock, midnight, one o’clock. . . . I did not sleep. I did not go to my chamber. It is stupid to lie stretched out all alone, and to wait. But in my study I did not rest. I tried to busy myself, to write letters, to read. Impossible! I was alone, tortured, wicked, and I listened. Toward daylight I went to sleep. I awoke. She had not returned. Everything in the house went on as usual, and all looked at me in astonishment, questioningly. The children’s eyes were full of reproach for me.
And always the same feeling of anxiety about her, and of hatred because of this anxiety.
“Toward eleven o’clock in the morning came her sister, her ambassadress. Then began the usual phrases: ‘She is in a terrible state. What is the matter?’ ‘Why, nothing has happened.’ I spoke of her asperity of character, and I added that I had done nothing, and that I would not take the first step. If she wants a divorce, so much the better! My sister-in-law would not listen to this idea, and went away without having gained anything. I was obstinate, and I said boldly and determinedly, in talking to her, that I would not take the first step. Immediately she had gone I went into the other room, and saw the children in a frightened and pitiful state, and there I found myself already inclined to take this first step. But I was bound by my word. Again I walked up and down, always smoking. At breakfast I drank brandy and wine, and I reached the point which I unconsciously desired, the point where I no longer saw the stupidity and baseness of my situation.
“Toward three o’clock she came. I thought that she was appeased, or admitted her defeat. I began to tell her that I was provoked by her reproaches. She answered me, with the same severe and terribly downcast face, that she had not come for explanations, but to take the children, that we could not live together. I answered that it was not my fault, that she had put me beside myself. She looked at me with a severe and solemn air, and said: ‘Say no more. You will repent it.’ I said that I could not tolerate comedies. Then she cried out something that I did not understand, and rushed toward her room. The key turned in the lock, and she shut herself up. I pushed at the door. There was no response. Furious, I went away.
“A half hour later Lise came running all in tears. ‘What! Has anything happened? We cannot hear Mamma!’ We went toward my wife’s room. I pushed the door with all my might. The bolt was scarcely drawn, and the door opened. In a skirt, with high boots, my wife lay awkwardly on the bed. On the table an empty opium phial. We restored her to life. Tears and then reconciliation! Not reconciliation; internally each kept the hatred for the other, but it was absolutely necessary for the moment to end the scene in some way, and life began again as before. These scenes, and even worse, came now once a week, now every month, now every day. And invariably the same incidents. Once I was absolutely resolved to fly, but through some inconceivable weakness I remained.
“Such were the circumstances in which we were living when the MAN came. The man was bad, it is true. But what! No worse than we were.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00