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Anton Chekhov
A Doctor's Visit
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THE Professor received a telegram from the Lyalikovs' factory; he
was asked to come as quickly as possible. The daughter of some
Madame Lyalikov, apparently the owner of the factory, was ill, and
that was all that one could make out of the long, incoherent telegram.
And the Professor did not go himself, but sent instead his assistant,
Korolyov.

It was two stations from Moscow, and there was a drive of three
miles from the station. A carriage with three horses had been sent
to the station to meet Korolyov; the coachman wore a hat with a
peacock's feather on it, and answered every question in a loud voice
like a soldier: "No, sir!" "Certainly, sir!"

It was Saturday evening; the sun was setting, the workpeople were
coming in crowds from the factory to the station, and they bowed
to the carriage in which Korolyov was driving. And he was charmed
with the evening, the farmhouses and villas on the road, and the
birch-trees, and the quiet atmosphere all around, when the fields
and woods and the sun seemed preparing, like the workpeople now on
the eve of the holiday, to rest, and perhaps to pray. . . .

He was born and had grown up in Moscow; he did not know the country,
and he had never taken any interest in factories, or been inside
one, but he had happened to read about factories, and had been in
the houses of manufacturers and had talked to them; and whenever
he saw a factory far or near, he always thought how quiet and
peaceable it was outside, but within there was always sure to be
impenetrable ignorance and dull egoism on the side of the owners,
wearisome, unhealthy toil on the side of the workpeople, squabbling,
vermin, vodka. And now when the workpeople timidly and respectfully
made way for the carriage, in their faces, their caps, their walk,
he read physical impurity, drunkenness, nervous exhaustion,
bewilderment.

They drove in at the factory gates. On each side he caught glimpses
of the little houses of workpeople, of the faces of women, of quilts
and linen on the railings. "Look out!" shouted the coachman, not
pulling up the horses. It was a wide courtyard without grass, with
five immense blocks of buildings with tall chimneys a little distance
one from another, warehouses and barracks, and over everything a
sort of grey powder as though from dust. Here and there, like oases
in the desert, there were pitiful gardens, and the green and red
roofs of the houses in which the managers and clerks lived. The
coachman suddenly pulled up the horses, and the carriage stopped
at the house, which had been newly painted grey; here was a flower
garden, with a lilac bush covered with dust, and on the yellow steps
at the front door there was a strong smell of paint.

"Please come in, doctor," said women's voices in the passage and
the entry, and at the same time he heard sighs and whisperings.
"Pray walk in. . . . We've been expecting you so long . . . we're
in real trouble. Here, this way."

Madame Lyalikov-- a stout elderly lady wearing a black silk dress
with fashionable sleeves, but, judging from her face, a simple
uneducated woman-- looked at the doctor in a flutter, and could
not bring herself to hold out her hand to him; she did not dare.
Beside her stood a personage with short hair and a pince-nez; she
was wearing a blouse of many colours, and was very thin and no
longer young. The servants called her Christina Dmitryevna, and
Korolyov guessed that this was the governess. Probably, as the
person of most education in the house, she had been charged to meet
and receive the doctor, for she began immediately, in great haste,
stating the causes of the illness, giving trivial and tiresome
details, but without saying who was ill or what was the matter.

The doctor and the governess were sitting talking while the lady
of the house stood motionless at the door, waiting. From the
conversation Korolyov learned that the patient was Madame Lyalikov's
only daughter and heiress, a girl of twenty, called Liza; she had
been ill for a long time, and had consulted various doctors, and
the previous night she had suffered till morning from such violent
palpitations of the heart, that no one in the house had slept, and
they had been afraid she might die.

"She has been, one may say, ailing from a child," said Christina
Dmitryevna in a sing-song voice, continually wiping her lips with
her hand. "The doctors say it is nerves; when she was a little girl
she was scrofulous, and the doctors drove it inwards, so I think
it may be due to that."

They went to see the invalid. Fully grown up, big and tall, but
ugly like her mother, with the same little eyes and disproportionate
breadth of the lower part of the face, lying with her hair in
disorder, muffled up to the chin, she made upon Korolyov at the
first minute the impression of a poor, destitute creature, sheltered
and cared for here out of charity, and he could hardly believe that
this was the heiress of the five huge buildings.

"I am the doctor come to see you," said Korolyov. "Good evening."

He mentioned his name and pressed her hand, a large, cold, ugly
hand; she sat up, and, evidently accustomed to doctors, let herself
be sounded, without showing the least concern that her shoulders
and chest were uncovered.

"I have palpitations of the heart," she said, "It was so awful all
night. . . . I almost died of fright! Do give me something."

"I will, I will; don't worry yourself."

Korolyov examined her and shrugged his shoulders.

"The heart is all right," he said; "it's all going on satisfactorily;
everything is in good order. Your nerves must have been playing
pranks a little, but that's so common. The attack is over by now,
one must suppose; lie down and go to sleep."

At that moment a lamp was brought into the bed-room. The patient
screwed up her eyes at the light, then suddenly put her hands to
her head and broke into sobs. And the impression of a destitute,
ugly creature vanished, and Korolyov no longer noticed the little
eyes or the heavy development of the lower part of the face. He saw
a soft, suffering expression which was intelligent and touching:
she seemed to him altogether graceful, feminine, and simple; and
he longed to soothe her, not with drugs, not with advice, but with
simple, kindly words. Her mother put her arms round her head and
hugged her. What despair, what grief was in the old woman's face!
She, her mother, had reared her and brought her up, spared nothing,
and devoted her whole life to having her daughter taught French,
dancing, music: had engaged a dozen teachers for her; had consulted
the best doctors, kept a governess. And now she could not make out
the reason of these tears, why there was all this misery, she could
not understand, and was bewildered; and she had a guilty, agitated,
despairing expression, as though she had omitted something very
important, had left something undone, had neglected to call in
somebody-- and whom, she did not know.

"Lizanka, you are crying again . . . again," she said, hugging her
daughter to her. "My own, my darling, my child, tell me what it is!
Have pity on me! Tell me."

Both wept bitterly. Korolyov sat down on the side of the bed and
took Liza's hand.

"Come, give over; it's no use crying," he said kindly. "Why, there
is nothing in the world that is worth those tears. Come, we won't
cry; that's no good. . . ."

And inwardly he thought:

"It's high time she was married. . . ."

"Our doctor at the factory gave her kalibromati," said the governess,
"but I notice it only makes her worse. I should have thought that
if she is given anything for the heart it ought to be drops. . . .
I forget the name. . . . Convallaria, isn't it?"

And there followed all sorts of details. She interrupted the doctor,
preventing his speaking, and there was a look of effort on her face,
as though she supposed that, as the woman of most education in the
house, she was duty bound to keep up a conversation with the doctor,
and on no other subject but medicine.

Korolyov felt bored.

"I find nothing special the matter," he said, addressing the mother
as he went out of the bedroom. "If your daughter is being attended
by the factory doctor, let him go on attending her. The treatment
so far has been perfectly correct, and I see no reason for changing
your doctor. Why change? It's such an ordinary trouble; there's
nothing seriously wrong."

He spoke deliberately as he put on his gloves, while Madame Lyalikov
stood without moving, and looked at him with her tearful eyes.

"I have half an hour to catch the ten o'clock train," he said. "I
hope I am not too late."

"And can't you stay?" she asked, and tears trickled down her cheeks
again. "I am ashamed to trouble you, but if you would be so good
. . . . For God's sake," she went on in an undertone, glancing towards
the door, "do stay to-night with us! She is all I have . . . my
only daughter. . . . She frightened me last night; I can't get over
it. . . . Don't go away, for goodness' sake! . . ."

He wanted to tell her that he had a great deal of work in Moscow,
that his family were expecting him home; it was disagreeable to him
to spend the evening and the whole night in a strange house quite
needlessly; but he looked at her face, heaved a sigh, and began
taking off his gloves without a word.

All the lamps and candles were lighted in his honour in the
drawing-room and the dining-room. He sat down at the piano and began
turning over the music. Then he looked at the pictures on the walls,
at the portraits. The pictures, oil-paintings in gold frames, were
views of the Crimea-- a stormy sea with a ship, a Catholic monk
with a wineglass; they were all dull, smooth daubs, with no trace
of talent in them. There was not a single good-looking face among
the portraits, nothing but broad cheekbones and astonished-looking
eyes. Lyalikov, Liza's father, had a low forehead and a self-satisfied
expression; his uniform sat like a sack on his bulky plebeian figure;
on his breast was a medal and a Red Cross Badge. There was little
sign of culture, and the luxury was senseless and haphazard, and
was as ill fitting as that uniform. The floors irritated him with
their brilliant polish, the lustres on the chandelier irritated
him, and he was reminded for some reason of the story of the merchant
who used to go to the baths with a medal on his neck. . . .

He heard a whispering in the entry; some one was softly snoring.
And suddenly from outside came harsh, abrupt, metallic sounds, such
as Korolyov had never heard before, and which he did not understand
now; they roused strange, unpleasant echoes in his soul.

"I believe nothing would induce me to remain here to live . . ."
he thought, and went back to the music-books again.

"Doctor, please come to supper!" the governess called him in a low
voice.

He went into supper. The table was large and laid with a vast number
of dishes and wines, but there were only two to supper: himself and
Christina Dmitryevna. She drank Madeira, ate rapidly, and talked,
looking at him through her pince-nez:

"Our workpeople are very contented. We have performances at the
factory every winter; the workpeople act themselves. They have
lectures with a magic lantern, a splendid tea-room, and everything
they want. They are very much attached to us, and when they heard
that Lizanka was worse they had a service sung for her. Though they
have no education, they have their feelings, too."

"It looks as though you have no man in the house at all," said
Korolyov.

"Not one. Pyotr Nikanoritch died a year and a half ago, and left
us alone. And so there are the three of us. In the summer we live
here, and in winter we live in Moscow, in Polianka. I have been
living with them for eleven years-- as one of the family."

At supper they served sterlet, chicken rissoles, and stewed fruit;
the wines were expensive French wines.

"Please don't stand on ceremony, doctor," said Christina Dmitryevna,
eating and wiping her mouth with her fist, and it was evident she
found her life here exceedingly pleasant. "Please have some more."

After supper the doctor was shown to his room, where a bed had been
made up for him, but he did not feel sleepy. The room was stuffy
and it smelt of paint; he put on his coat and went out.

It was cool in the open air; there was already a glimmer of dawn,
and all the five blocks of buildings, with their tall chimneys,
barracks, and warehouses, were distinctly outlined against the damp
air. As it was a holiday, they were not working, and the windows
were dark, and in only one of the buildings was there a furnace
burning; two windows were crimson, and fire mixed with smoke came
from time to time from the chimney. Far away beyond the yard the
frogs were croaking and the nightingales singing.

Looking at the factory buildings and the barracks, where the
workpeople were asleep, he thought again what he always thought
when he saw a factory. They may have performances for the workpeople,
magic lanterns, factory doctors, and improvements of all sorts,
but, all the same, the workpeople he had met that day on his way
from the station did not look in any way different from those he
had known long ago in his childhood, before there were factory
performances and improvements. As a doctor accustomed to judging
correctly of chronic complaints, the radical cause of which was
incomprehensible and incurable, he looked upon factories as something
baffling, the cause of which also was obscure and not removable,
and all the improvements in the life of the factory hands he looked
upon not as superfluous, but as comparable with the treatment of
incurable illnesses.

"There is something baffling in it, of course . . ." he thought,
looking at the crimson windows. "Fifteen hundred or two thousand
workpeople are working without rest in unhealthy surroundings,
making bad cotton goods, living on the verge of starvation, and
only waking from this nightmare at rare intervals in the tavern; a
hundred people act as overseers, and the whole life of that hundred
is spent in imposing fines, in abuse, in injustice, and only two
or three so-called owners enjoy the profits, though they don't work
at all, and despise the wretched cotton. But what are the profits,
and how do they enjoy them? Madame Lyalikov and her daughter are
unhappy-- it makes one wretched to look at them; the only one who
enjoys her life is Christina Dmitryevna, a stupid, middle-aged
maiden lady in pince-nez. And so it appears that all these five
blocks of buildings are at work, and inferior cotton is sold in the
Eastern markets, simply that Christina Dmitryevna may eat sterlet
and drink Madeira."

Suddenly there came a strange noise, the same sound Korolyov had
heard before supper. Some one was striking on a sheet of metal near
one of the buildings; he struck a note, and then at once checked
the vibrations, so that short, abrupt, discordant sounds were
produced, rather like "Dair . . . dair . . . dair. . . ." Then there
was half a minute of stillness, and from another building there
came sounds equally abrupt and unpleasant, lower bass notes: "Drin
. . . drin . . . drin. . ." Eleven times. Evidently it was the
watchman striking the hour. Near the third building he heard: "Zhuk
. . . zhuk . . . zhuk. . . ." And so near all the buildings, and
then behind the barracks and beyond the gates. And in the stillness
of the night it seemed as though these sounds were uttered by a
monster with crimson eyes-- the devil himself, who controlled the
owners and the work-people alike, and was deceiving both.

Korolyov went out of the yard into the open country.

"Who goes there?" some one called to him at the gates in an abrupt
voice.

"It's just like being in prison," he thought, and made no answer.

Here the nightingales and the frogs could be heard more distinctly,
and one could feel it was a night in May. From the station came the
noise of a train; somewhere in the distance drowsy cocks were
crowing; but, all the same, the night was still, the world was
sleeping tranquilly. In a field not far from the factory there could
be seen the framework of a house and heaps of building material:

Korolyov sat down on the planks and went on thinking.

"The only person who feels happy here is the governess, and the
factory hands are working for her gratification. But that's only
apparent: she is only the figurehead. The real person, for whom
everything is being done, is the devil."

And he thought about the devil, in whom he did not believe, and he
looked round at the two windows where the fires were gleaming. It
seemed to him that out of those crimson eyes the devil himself was
looking at him-- that unknown force that had created the mutual
relation of the strong and the weak, that coarse blunder which one
could never correct. The strong must hinder the weak from living
-- such was the law of Nature; but only in a newspaper article or
in a school book was that intelligible and easily accepted. In the
hotchpotch which was everyday life, in the tangle of trivialities
out of which human relations were woven, it was no longer a law,
but a logical absurdity, when the strong and the weak were both
equally victims of their mutual relations, unwillingly submitting
to some directing force, unknown, standing outside life, apart from
man.

So thought Korolyov, sitting on the planks, and little by little
he was possessed by a feeling that this unknown and mysterious force
was really close by and looking at him. Meanwhile the east was
growing paler, time passed rapidly; when there was not a soul
anywhere near, as though everything were dead, the five buildings
and their chimneys against the grey background of the dawn had a
peculiar look-- not the same as by day; one forgot altogether that
inside there were steam motors, electricity, telephones, and kept
thinking of lake-dwellings, of the Stone Age, feeling the presence
of a crude, unconscious force. . . .

And again there came the sound: "Dair . . . dair . . . dair . . .
dair . . ." twelve times. Then there was stillness, stillness for
half a minute, and at the other end of the yard there rang out.

"Drin . . . drin . . . drin. . . ."

"Horribly disagreeable," thought Korolyov.

"Zhuk . . . zhuk . . ." there resounded from a third place, abruptly,
sharply, as though with annoyance-- "Zhuk . . . zhuk. . . ."

And it took four minutes to strike twelve. Then there was a hush;
and again it seemed as though everything were dead.

Korolyov sat a little longer, then went to the house, but sat up
for a good while longer. In the adjoining rooms there was whispering,
there was a sound of shuffling slippers and bare feet.

"Is she having another attack?" thought Korolyov.

He went out to have a look at the patient. By now it was quite light
in the rooms, and a faint glimmer of sunlight, piercing through the
morning mist, quivered on the floor and on the wall of the drawing-room.
The door of Liza's room was open, and she was sitting in a low chair
beside her bed, with her hair down, wearing a dressing-gown and
wrapped in a shawl. The blinds were down on the windows.

"How do you feel?" asked Korolyov.

"Well, thank you."

He touched her pulse, then straightened her hair, that had fallen
over her forehead.

"You are not asleep," he said. "It's beautiful weather outside.
It's spring. The nightingales are singing, and you sit in the dark
and think of something."

She listened and looked into his face; her eyes were sorrowful and
intelligent, and it was evident she wanted to say something to him.

"Does this happen to you often?" he said.

She moved her lips, and answered:

"Often, I feel wretched almost every night."

At that moment the watchman in the yard began striking two o'clock.
They heard: "Dair . . . dair . . ." and she shuddered.

"Do those knockings worry you?" he asked.

"I don't know. Everything here worries me," she answered, and
pondered. "Everything worries me. I hear sympathy in your voice;
it seemed to me as soon as I saw you that I could tell you all about
it."

"Tell me, I beg you."

"I want to tell you of my opinion. It seems to me that I have no
illness, but that I am weary and frightened, because it is bound
to be so and cannot be otherwise. Even the healthiest person can't
help being uneasy if, for instance, a robber is moving about under
his window. I am constantly being doctored," she went on, looking
at her knees, and she gave a shy smile. "I am very grateful, of
course, and I do not deny that the treatment is a benefit; but I
should like to talk, not with a doctor, but with some intimate
friend who would understand me and would convince me that I was
right or wrong."

"Have you no friends?" asked Korolyov.

"I am lonely. I have a mother; I love her, but, all the same, I am
lonely. That's how it happens to be. . . . Lonely people read a
great deal, but say little and hear little. Life for them is
mysterious; they are mystics and often see the devil where he is
not. Lermontov's Tamara was lonely and she saw the devil."

"Do you read a great deal?"

"Yes. You see, my whole time is free from morning till night. I
read by day, and by night my head is empty; instead of thoughts
there are shadows in it."

"Do you see anything at night?" asked Korolyov.

"No, but I feel. . . ."

She smiled again, raised her eyes to the doctor, and looked at him
so sorrowfully, so intelligently; and it seemed to him that she
trusted him, and that she wanted to speak frankly to him, and that
she thought the same as he did. But she was silent, perhaps waiting
for him to speak.

And he knew what to say to her. It was clear to him that she needed
as quickly as possible to give up the five buildings and the million
if she had it-- to leave that devil that looked out at night; it
was clear to him, too, that she thought so herself, and was only
waiting for some one she trusted to confirm her.

But he did not know how to say it. How? One is shy of asking men
under sentence what they have been sentenced for; and in the same
way it is awkward to ask very rich people what they want so much
money for, why they make such a poor use of their wealth, why they
don't give it up, even when they see in it their unhappiness; and
if they begin a conversation about it themselves, it is usually
embarrassing, awkward, and long.

"How is one to say it?" Korolyov wondered. "And is it necessary to
speak?"

And he said what he meant in a roundabout way:

"You in the position of a factory owner and a wealthy heiress are
dissatisfied; you don't believe in your right to it; and here now
you can't sleep. That, of course, is better than if you were
satisfied, slept soundly, and thought everything was satisfactory.
Your sleeplessness does you credit; in any case, it is a good sign.
In reality, such a conversation as this between us now would have
been unthinkable for our parents. At night they did not talk, but
slept sound; we, our generation, sleep badly, are restless, but
talk a great deal, and are always trying to settle whether we are
right or not. For our children or grandchildren that question--
whether they are right or not-- will have been settled. Things
will be clearer for them than for us. Life will be good in fifty
years' time; it's only a pity we shall not last out till then. It
would be interesting to have a peep at it."

"What will our children and grandchildren do?" asked Liza.

"I don't know. . . . I suppose they will throw it all up and go
away."

"Go where?"

"Where? . . . Why, where they like," said Korolyov; and he laughed.
"There are lots of places a good, intelligent person can go to."

He glanced at his watch.

"The sun has risen, though," he said. "It is time you were asleep.
Undress and sleep soundly. Very glad to have made your acquaintance,"
he went on, pressing her hand. "You are a good, interesting woman.
Good-night!"

He went to his room and went to bed.

In the morning when the carriage was brought round they all came
out on to the steps to see him off. Liza, pale and exhausted, was
in a white dress as though for a holiday, with a flower in her hair;
she looked at him, as yesterday, sorrowfully and intelligently,
smiled and talked, and all with an expression as though she wanted
to tell him something special, important-- him alone. They could
hear the larks trilling and the church bells pealing. The windows
in the factory buildings were sparkling gaily, and, driving across
the yard and afterwards along the road to the station, Korolyov
thought neither of the workpeople nor of lake dwellings, nor of the
devil, but thought of the time, perhaps close at hand, when life
would be as bright and joyous as that still Sunday morning; and he
thought how pleasant it was on such a morning in the spring to drive
with three horses in a good carriage, and to bask in the sunshine.


* * * * * THE END * * * * *

 

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