Nekhludoff went to visit his aunts because their estate lay near the road he had to travel in order to join his regiment, which had gone forward, because they had very warmly asked him to come, and especially because he wanted to see Katusha. Perhaps in his heart he had already formed those evil designs against Katusha which his now uncontrolled animal self suggested to him, but he did not acknowledge this as his intention, but only wished to go back to the spot where he had been so happy, to see his rather funny, but dear, kind-hearted old aunts, who always, without his noticing it, surrounded him with an atmosphere of love and admiration, and to see sweet Katusha, of whom he had retained so pleasant a memory.
He arrived at the end of March, on Good Friday, after the thaw had set in. It was pouring with rain so that he had not a dry thread on him and was feeling very cold, but yet vigorous and full of spirits, as always at that time. “Is she still with them?” he thought, as he drove into the familiar, old-fashioned courtyard, surrounded by a low brick wall, and now filled with snow off the roofs.
He expected she would come out when she heard the sledge bells but she did not. Two bare-footed women with pails and tucked-up skirts, who had evidently been scrubbing the floors, came out of the side door. She was not at the front door either, and only Tikhon, the man-servant, with his apron on, evidently also busy cleaning, came out into the front porch. His aunt Sophia Ivanovna alone met him in the ante-room; she had a silk dress on and a cap on her head. Both aunts had been to church and had received communion.
“Well, this is nice of you to come,” said Sophia Ivanovna, kissing him. “Mary is not well, got tired in church; we have been to communion.”
“I congratulate you, Aunt Sophia,” [it is usual in Russia to congratulate those who have received communion] said Nekhludoff, kissing Sophia Ivanovna’s hand. “Oh, I beg your pardon, I have made you wet.”
“Go to your room — why you are soaking wet. Dear me, you have got moustaches! . . . Katusha! Katusha! Get him some coffee; be quick.”
“Directly,” came the sound of a well-known, pleasant voice from the passage, and Nekhludoff’s heart cried out “She’s here!” and it was as if the sun had come out from behind the clouds.
Nekhludoff, followed by Tikhon, went gaily to his old room to change his things. He felt inclined to ask Tikhon about Katusha; how she was, what she was doing, was she not going to be married? But Tikhon was so respectful and at the same time so severe, insisted so firmly on pouring the water out of the jug for him, that Nekhludoff could not make up his mind to ask him about Katusha, but only inquired about Tikhon’s grandsons, about the old so-called “brother’s” horse, and about the dog Polkan. All were alive except Polkan, who had gone mad the summer before.
When he had taken off all his wet things and just begun to dress again, Nekhludoff heard quick, familiar footsteps and a knock at the door. Nekhludoff knew the steps and also the knock. No one but she walked and knocked like that.
Having thrown his wet greatcoat over his shoulders, he opened the door.
“Come in.” It was she, Katusha, the same, only sweeter than before. The slightly squinting naive black eyes looked up in the same old way. Now as then, she had on a white apron. She brought him from his aunts a piece of scented soap, with the wrapper just taken off, and two towels — one a long Russian embroidered one, the other a bath towel. The unused soap with the stamped inscription, the towels, and her own self, all were equally clean, fresh, undefiled and pleasant. The irrepressible smile of joy at the sight of him made the sweet, firm lips pucker up as of old.
“How do you do, Dmitri Ivanovitch?” she uttered with difficulty, her face suffused with a rosy blush.
“Good-morning! How do you do?” he said, also blushing. “Alive and well?”
“Yes, the Lord be thanked. And here is your favorite pink soap and towels from your aunts,” she said, putting the soap on the table and hanging the towels over the back of a chair.
“There is everything here,” said Tikhon, defending the visitor’s independence, and pointing to Nekhludoff’s open dressing case filled with brushes, perfume, fixatoire, a great many bottles with silver lids and all sorts of toilet appliances.
“Thank my aunts, please. Oh, how glad I am to be here,” said Nekhludoff, his heart filling with light and tenderness as of old.
She only smiled in answer to these words, and went out. The aunts, who had always loved Nekhludoff, welcomed him this time more warmly than ever. Dmitri was going to the war, where he might be wounded or killed, and this touched the old aunts. Nekhludoff had arranged to stay only a day and night with his aunts, but when he had seen Katusha he agreed to stay over Easter with them and telegraphed to his friend Schonbock, whom he was to have joined in Odessa, that he should come and meet him at his aunts’ instead.
As soon as he had seen Katusha Nekhludoff’s old feelings toward her awoke again. Now, just as then, he could not see her white apron without getting excited; he could not listen to her steps, her voice, her laugh, without a feeling of joy; he could not look at her eyes, black as sloes, without a feeling of tenderness, especially when she smiled; and, above all, he could not notice without agitation how she blushed when they met. He felt he was in love, but not as before, when this love was a kind of mystery to him and he would not own, even to himself, that he loved, and when he was persuaded that one could love only once; now he knew he was in love and was glad of it, and knew dimly what this love consisted of and what it might lead to, though he sought to conceal it even from himself. In Nekhludoff, as in every man, there were two beings: one the spiritual, seeking only that kind of happiness for him self which should tend towards the happiness of all; the other, the animal man, seeking only his own happiness, and ready to sacrifice to it the happiness of the rest of the world. At this period of his mania of self-love brought on by life in Petersburg and in the army, this animal man ruled supreme and completely crushed the spiritual man in him.
But when he saw Katusha and experienced the same feelings as he had had three years before, the spiritual man in him raised its head once more and began to assert its rights. And up to Easter, during two whole days, an unconscious, ceaseless inner struggle went on in him.
He knew in the depths of his soul that he ought to go away, that there was no real reason for staying on with his aunts, knew that no good could come of it; and yet it was so pleasant, so delightful, that he did not honestly acknowledge the facts to himself and stayed on. On Easter eve, the priest and the deacon who came to the house to say mass had had (so they said) the greatest difficulty in getting over the three miles that lay between the church and the old ladies’ house, coming across the puddles and the bare earth in a sledge.
Nekhludoff attended the mass with his aunts and the servants, and kept looking at Katusha, who was near the door and brought in the censers for the priests. Then having given the priests and his aunts the Easter kiss, though it was not midnight and therefore not Easter yet, he was already going to bed when he heard the old servant Matrona Pavlovna preparing to go to the church to get the koulitch and paski [Easter cakes] blest after the midnight service. “I shall go too,” he thought.
The road to the church was impassable either in a sledge or on wheels, so Nekhludoff, who behaved in his aunts’ house just as he did at home, ordered the old horse, “the brother’s horse,” to be saddled, and instead of going to bed he put on his gay uniform, a pair of tight-fitting riding breeches and his overcoat, and got on the old over-fed and heavy horse, which neighed continually all the way as he rode in the dark through the puddles and snow to the church.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00