Chapter 1

Toward the end of winter, in the house of the Shcherbatskys, a consultation was being held, which was to determine the state of Kitty's health, and what was to be done to restore her failing strength. She had been ill, and, as spring came on, she grew worse. The family doctor gave her cod-liver oil, then iron, then lunar caustic; but since neither the first, nor the second, nor the third availed, and since his advice was to go abroad before the beginning of the spring, a celebrated doctor was called in. The celebrated doctor, not yet old and a very handsome man, demanded an examination of the patient. He maintained, with special satisfaction, it seemed, that maiden modesty is merely a relic of barbarism, and that nothing could be more natural than for a man who was not yet old to handle a young girl in the nude. He deemed this natural, because he did it every day, and neither felt nor thought, as it seemed to him, anything evil as he did it and, consequently, he considered girlish modesty not merely as a relic of barbarism, but, as well, an insult to himself.

It was necessary to submit, for, although all the doctors studied in the same school, all using the same textbooks, and all learned in the same science, and though some people said this celebrated doctor was but a poor doctor, in the Princess's household and circle it was for some reason held that this celebrated doctor alone had some peculiar knowledge, and that he alone could save Kitty. After thorough examination and tapping of the patient, distraught and dazed with shame, the celebrated doctor, having painstakingly washed his hands, was standing in the drawing room talking to the Prince. The Prince frowned and coughed as he listened to the doctor. As a man who had seen something of life, and neither a fool nor an invalid, he had no faith in medicine, and at soul was wrought up with all this comedy, especially as he was probably the only one who fully understood the cause of Kitty's illness. `You're barking up the wrong tree,' he mentally applied this phrase from the hunter's vocabulary to the celebrated doctor, as he listened to the latter's patter about the symptoms of his daughter's complaint. The doctor, for his part, found difficulty in restraining the expression of his contempt for this old grandee, as well as in condescending to the low level of his comprehension. He perceived that it was useless to talk to the old man, and that the head of this house was the mother - and she it was before whom he intended to scatter his pearls. It was at this point that the Princess entered the drawing room with the family doctor. The Prince retreated, doing his best not to betray how ridiculous he regarded the whole comedy. The Princess was distraught, and did not know what to do. She felt herself at fault before Kitty.

`Well, doctor, decide our fate,' said the Princess. `Tell me everything.' - `Is there any hope?' was what she had wanted to say, but her lips quivered, and she could not utter this question. `Well, doctor?'

`Immediately, Princess - I will discuss the matter with my colleague, and then have the honor of laying my opinion before you.'

`Then we had better leave you?'

`As you please.'

The Princess, with a sigh, stepped outside.

When the doctors were left alone, the family doctor began timidly explaining his opinion, that there was an incipient tubercular process, but... and so on. The celebrated doctor listened to him, and in the middle of the other's speech looked at his big gold watch.

`That is so,' said he. `But...'

The family doctor respectfully ceased in the middle of his speech.

`As you know, we cannot determine the incipience of the tubercular process; until the appearance of vomicae there is nothing determinate. But we may suspect it. And there are indications: malnutrition, nervous excitability, and so on. The question stands thus: if we suspect a tubercular process, what must we do to maintain nutrition?'

  By PanEris using Melati.

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