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CHAPTER XV. THE EARLY MASS.
For Nekhludoff this early mass remained for ever after one of the brightest and most vivid memories of his life. When he rode out of the darkness, broken only here and there by patches of white snow, into the churchyard illuminated by a row of lamps around the church, the service had already begun.
The peasants, recognising Mary Ivanovna's nephew, led his horse, which was pricking up its cars at the sight of the lights, to a dry place where he could get off, put it up for him, and showed him into the church, which was full of people. On the right stood the peasants; the old men in home-spun coats, and clean white linen bands [long strips of linen are worn by the peasants instead of stockings] wrapped round their legs, the young men in new cloth coats, bright-coloured belts round their waists, and top-boots.
On the left stood the women, with red silk kerchiefs on their heads, black velveteen sleeveless jackets, bright red shirt-sleeves, gay-coloured green, blue, and red skirts, and thick leather boots. The old women, dressed more quietly, stood behind them, with white kerchiefs, homespun coats, old-fashioned skirts of dark home-spun material, and shoes on their feet. Gaily-dressed children, their hair well oiled, went in and out among them.
The men, making the sign of the cross, bowed down and raised their heads again, shaking back their hair.
The women, especially the old ones, fixed their eyes on an icon surrounded with candies and made the sign of the cross, firmly pressing their folded fingers to the kerchief on their foreheads, to their shoulders, and their stomachs, and, whispering something, stooped or knelt down. The children, imitating the grown-up people, prayed earnestly when they knew that they were being observed. The gilt case containing the icon glittered, illuminated on all sides by tall candles ornamented with golden spirals. The candelabra was filled with tapers, and from the choir sounded most merry tunes sung by amateur choristers, with bellowing bass and shrill boys' voices among them.
Nekhludoff passed up to the front. In the middle of the church stood the aristocracy of the place: a landed proprietor, with his wife and son (the latter dressed in a sailor's suit), the police officer, the telegraph clerk, a tradesman in top-boots, and the village elder, with a medal on his breast; and to the right of the ambo, just behind the landed proprietor's wife, stood Matrona Pavlovna in a lilac dress and fringed shawl and Katusha in a white dress with a tucked bodice, blue sash, and red bow in her black hair.
Everything seemed festive, solemn, bright, and beautiful: the priest in his silver cloth vestments with gold crosses; the deacon, the clerk and chanter in their silver and gold surplices; the amateur choristers in their best clothes, with their well-oiled hair; the merry tunes of the holiday hymns that sounded like dance music; and the continual blessing of the people by the priests, who held candles decorated with flowers, and repeated the cry of "Christ is risen!" "Christ is risen!" All was beautiful; but, above all, Katusha, in her white dress, blue sash, and the red bow on her black head, her eyes beaming with rapture.
Nekhludoff knew that she felt his presence without looking at him. He noticed this as he passed her, walking up to the altar. He had nothing to tell her, but he invented something to say and whispered as he passed her: "Aunt told me that she would break her fast after the late mass." The young blood rushed up to Katusha's sweet face, as it always did when she looked at him. The black eyes, laughing and full of joy, gazed naively up and remained fixed on Nekhludoff.
"I know," she said, with a smile.
At this moment the clerk was going out with a copper coffee-pot [coffee-pots are often used for holding holy water in Russia] of holy water in his hand, and, not noticing Katusha, brushed her with his surplice. Evidently he brushed against Katusha through wishing to pass Nekhludoff at a respectful distance, and Nekhludoff was surprised that he, the clerk, did not understand that everything here, yes, and in all the world, only existed for Katusha, and that everything else might remain unheeded, only not she, because she was the centre of all. For her the gold glittered round the icons; for her all these candles in candelabra and candlesticks were alight; for her were sung these joyful hymns, "Behold the Passover of the Lord" "Rejoice, O ye people!" All - all that was good in the world was for her. And it seemed to him that Katusha was aware that it was all for her when he looked at her well-shaped figure, the tucked white dress, the wrapt, joyous expression of her face, by which he knew that just exactly the same that was singing in his own soul was also singing in hers.
In the interval between the early and the late mass Nekhludoff left the church. The people stood aside to let him pass, and bowed. Some knew him; others asked who he was.
He stopped on the steps. The beggars standing there came clamouring round him, and he gave them all the change he had in his purse and went down. It was dawning, but the sun had not yet risen. The people grouped round the graves in the churchyard. Katusha had remained inside. Nekhludoff stood waiting for her.
The people continued coming out, clattering with their nailed boots on the stone steps and dispersing over the churchyard. A very old man with shaking head, his aunts' cook, stopped Nekhludoff in order to give him the Easter kiss, his old wife took an egg, dyed yellow, out of her handkerchief and gave it to Nekhludoff, and a smiling young peasant in a new coat and green belt also came up.
"Christ is risen," he said, with laughing eyes, and coming close to Nekhludoff he enveloped him in his peculiar but pleasant peasant smell, and, tickling him with his curly beard, kissed him three times straight on the mouth with his firm, fresh lips.
While the peasant was kissing Nekhludoff and giving him a dark brown egg, the lilac dress of Matrona Pavlovna and the dear black head with the red bow appeared.
Katusha caught sight of him over the heads of those in front of her, and he saw how her face brightened up.
She had come out with Matrona Pavlovna on to the porch, and stopped there distributing alms to the beggars. A beggar with a red scab in place of a nose came up to Katusha. She gave him something, drew nearer him, and, evincing no sign of disgust, but her eyes still shining with joy, kissed him three times. And while she was doing this her eyes met Nekhludoff's with a look as if she were asking, "Is this that I am doing right?" "Yes, dear, yes, it is right; everything is right, everything is beautiful. I love!"
They came down the steps of the porch, and he came up to them.
He did not mean to give them the Easter kiss, but only to be nearer to her. Matrona Pavlovna bowed her head, and said with a smile, "Christ is risen!" and her tone implied, "To-day we are all equal." She wiped her mouth with her handkerchief rolled into a ball and stretched her lips towards him.
"He is, indeed," answered Nekhludoff, kissing her. Then he looked at Katusha; she blushed, and drew nearer. "Christ is risen, Dmitri Ivanovitch." "He is risen, indeed," answered Nekhludoff, and they kissed twice, then paused as if considering whether a third kiss were necessary, and, having decided that it was, kissed a third time and smiled.
"You are going to the priests?" asked Nekhludoff.
"No, we shall sit out here a bit, Dmitri Ivanovitch," said Katusha with effort, as if she had accomplished some joyous task, and, her whole chest heaving with a deep sigh, she looked straight in his face with a look of devotion, virgin purity, and love, in her very slightly squinting eyes.
In the love between a man and a woman there always comes a moment when this love has reached its zenith - a moment when it is unconscious, unreasoning, and with nothing sensual about it. Such a moment had come for Nekhludoff on that Easter eve. When he brought Katusha back to his mind, now, this moment veiled all else; the smooth glossy black head, the white tucked dress closely fitting her graceful maidenly form, her, as yet, un-developed bosom, the blushing cheeks, the tender shining black eyes with their slight squint heightened by the sleepless night, and her whole being stamped with those two marked features, purity and chaste love, love not only for him (he knew that), but for everybody and everything, not for the good alone, but for all that is in the world, even for that beggar whom she had kissed.
He knew she had that love in her because on that night and morning he was conscious of it in himself, and conscious that in this love he became one with her. Ah! if it had all stopped there, at the point it had reached that night. "Yes, all that horrible business had not yet happened on that Easter eve!" he thought, as he sat by the window of the jurymen's room.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER XVI. THE FIRST STEP.