Since his return from abroad Alexei Alexandrovich had been twice at their country villa. Once he dined there, another time he spent the evening there with a party of friends, but he had not once stayed the night there, as it had been his habit to do in previous years.

The day of the races had been a very busy day for Alexei Alexandrovich; but when sketching out the day in the morning he made up his mind to go immediately after his early dinner, to their summer villa to see his wife and from there to the races, which all the Court were to witness, and at which he was bound to be present. He was going to see his wife, because he had determined to see her once a week to keep up appearances. And besides, on that day, as it was the fifteenth, he had to give his wife some money for her expenses, according to their usual arrangement.

With his habitual control over his thoughts, though he thought all this about his wife, he did not let his thoughts stray further in regard to her.

That morning was a very full one for Alexei Alexandrovich. The evening before, Countess Lidia Ivanovna had sent him a pamphlet by a celebrated traveler in China, who was staying in Peterburg, and with it she enclosed a note begging him to see the traveler himself, as he was an extremely interesting person from various points of view, and likely to be useful. Alexei Alexandrovich had not had time to read the pamphlet through in the evening, and finished it in the morning. Then people began arriving with petitions, and then came the reports, interviews, appointments, dismissals, apportionment of rewards, pensions, payments, papers - the workday round, as Alexei Alexandrovich called it, that always took up so much time. Then there was a private business of his own, a visit from the doctor, and from the steward who managed his property. The steward did not take up much time. He simply gave Alexei Alexandrovich the money he needed, together with a brief statement of the position of his affairs, which was not altogether satisfactory, as during that year, owing to increased expenses, more had been paid out than usual, and there was a deficit. But the doctor, a celebrated Peterburg doctor, who was an intimate acquaintance of Alexei Alexandrovich, had taken up a great deal of time. Alexei Alexandrovich had not expected him that day, and was surprised at his visit, and still more so when the doctor questioned him very carefully about his health, listened to his breathing, and tapped at his liver. Alexei Alexandrovich did not know that his friend Lidia Ivanovna, noticing that he was not as well as usual that year, had begged the doctor to go and examine him. `Do this for my sake,' the Countess Lidia Ivanovna had said to him.

`I will do it for the sake of Russia, Countess,' replied the doctor.

`A priceless man!' said the Countess Lidia Ivanovna.

The doctor was extremely dissatisfied with Alexei Alexandrovich. He found the liver considerably enlarged, and the digestive powers weakened, while the course of mineral waters had been quite without effect. He prescribed more physical exercise as far as possible, and as far as possible less mental strain, and above all no worry - in other words, just what was as much out of Alexei Alexandrovich's power as abstaining from breathing. Then he withdrew, leaving in Alexei Alexandrovich an unpleasant sense that something was wrong with him, and that there was no chance of curing it.

As he was coming away, the doctor chanced to meet on the steps an acquaintance of his, Sludin, who was head clerk in Alexei Alexandrovich's office. They had been comrades at the university, and, though they rarely met, they thought highly of each other and were excellent friends, and hence there was no one to whom the doctor would have given his opinion of a patient so freely as to Sludin.

`How glad I am you've been seeing him!' said Sludin. `He's not well, and I fancy... Well, what do you think of him?'

`I'll tell you,' said the doctor, beckoning over Sludin's head to his coachman to bring the carriage round. `It's just this,' said the doctor, taking a finger of his kid glove in his white hands and pulling it, `if you don't strain the strings, and then try to break them, you'll find it a difficult job; but strain a string to its very utmost, and the mere weight of one finger on the strained string will snap it. And with his close assiduity,


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