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CHAPTER XVI. THE FIRST STEP.
When he returned from church Nekhludoff broke the fast with his aunts and took a glass of spirits and some wine, having got into that habit while with his regiment, and when he reached his room fell asleep at once, dressed as he was. He was awakened by a knock at the door. He knew it was her knock, and got up, rubbing his eyes and stretching himself.
"Katusha, is it you? Come in," said he.
She opened the door.
"Dinner is ready," she said. She still had on the same white dress, but not the bow in her hair. She looked at him with a smile, as if she had communicated some very good news to him.
"I am coming," he answered, as he rose, taking his comb to arrange his hair.
She stood still for a minute, and he, noticing it, threw down his comb and made a step towards her, but at that very moment she turned suddenly and went with quick light steps along the strip of carpet in the middle of the passage.
"Dear me, what a fool I am," thought Nekhludoff. "Why did I not stop her?" What he wanted her for he did not know himself, but he felt that when she came into his room something should have been done, something that is generally done on such occasions, and that he had left it undone.
"Katusha, wait," he said.
"What do you want?" she said, stopping.
"Nothing, only - " and, with an effort, remembering how men in his position generally behave, he put his arm round her waist.
She stood still and looked into his eyes.
"Don't, Dmitri Ivanovitch, you must not," she said, blushing to tears and pushing away his arm with her strong hard hand. Nekhludoff let her go, and for a moment he felt not only confused and ashamed but disgusted with himself. He should now have believed himself, and then he would have known that this confusion and shame were caused by the best feelings of his soul demanding to be set free; but he thought it was only his stupidity and that he ought to behave as every one else did. He caught her up and kissed her on the neck.
This kiss was very different from that first thoughtless kiss behind the lilac bush, and very different to the kiss this morning in the churchyard. This was a dreadful kiss, and she felt it.
"Oh, what are you doing?" she cried, in a tone as if he had irreparably broken something of priceless value, and ran quickly away.
He came into the dining-room. His aunts, elegantly dressed, their family doctor, and a neighbour were already there. Everything seemed so very ordinary, but in Nekhludoff a storm was raging. He understood nothing of what was being said and gave wrong answers, thinking only of Katusha. The sound of her steps in the passage brought back the thrill of that last kiss and he could think of nothing else. When she came into the room he, without looking round, felt her presence with his whole being and had to force himself not to look at her.
After dinner he at once went into his bedroom and for a long time walked up and down in great excitement, listening to every sound in the house and expecting to hear her steps. The animal man inside him had now not only lifted its head, but had succeeded in trampling under foot the spiritual man of the days of his first visit, and even of that every morning. That dreadful animal man alone now ruled over him.
Though he was watching for her all day he could not manage to meet her alone. She was probably trying to evade him. In the evening, however, she was obliged to go into the room next to his. The doctor had been asked to stay the night, and she had to make his bed. When he heard her go in Nekhludoff followed her, treading softly and holding his breath as if he were going to commit a crime.
She was putting a clean pillow-case on the pillow, holding it by two of its corners with her arms inside the pillow-case. She turned round and smiled, not a happy, joyful smile as before, but in a frightened, piteous way. The smile seemed to tell him that what he was doing was wrong. He stopped for a moment. There was still the possibility of a struggle. The voice of his real love for her, though feebly, was still speaking of her, her feelings, her life. Another voice was saying, "Take care I don't let the opportunity for your own happiness, your own enjoyment, slip by!" And this second voice completely stifled the first. He went up to her with determination and a terrible, ungovernable animal passion took possession of him.
With his arm round he made her sit down on the bed; and feeling that there was something more to be done he sat down beside her.
"Dmitri Ivanovitch, dear! please let me go," she said, with a piteous voice. "Matrona Pavlovna is coming," she cried, tearing herself away. Some one was really coming to the door.
"Well, then, I'll come to you in the night," he whispered. "You'll be alone?"
"What are you thinking of? On no account. No, no!" she said, but only with her lips; the tremulous confusion of her whole being said something very different.
It was Matrona Pavlovna who had come to the door. She came in with a. blanket over her arm, looked reproachfully at Nekhludoff, and began scolding Katusha for having taken the wrong blanket.
Nekhludoff went out in silence, but he did not even feel ashamed. He could see by Matrona Pavlovna's face that she was blaming him, he knew that she was blaming him with reason and felt that he was doing wrong, but this novel, low animal excitement, having freed itself of all the old feelings of real love for Katusha, ruled supreme, leaving room for nothing else. He went about as if demented all the evening, now into his aunts', then back into his own room, then out into the porch, thinking all the time how he could meet her alone; but she avoided him, and Matrona Pavlovna watched her closely.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER XVII. NEKHLUDOFF AND KATUSHA.