A.P. Chekhov -
A Doctor's Visit
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
"I am the doctor come to see you," said Korolyov. "Good
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
"It looks as though you have no man in the house at all," said
"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
"It's just like being in prison," he thought, and made no
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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.
kalibromati: potassium bromate; what the governess probably
means is potassium bromide, which was used as a sendative
Convallaria: used as a sedative to calm heart rhythms
uniform: even non-governmental organizations had uniforms
Red Cross Badge: given for charitable work
Lermontov's Tamara: heroine of the narrative poem The Demon, by
Mikhail Y. Lermontov (1814-1841)