Between nine and ten on a dark September evening the only son of the district doctor, Kirilov, a child of six, called Andrey, died of diphtheria. Just as the doctors wife sank on her knees by the dead childs bedside and was overwhelmed by the first rush of despair there came a sharp ring at the bell in the entry.
All the servants had been sent out of the house that morning on account of the diphtheria. Kirilov went to open the door just as he was, without his coat on, with his waistcoat unbuttoned, without wiping his wet face or his hands which were scalded with carbolic. It was dark in the entry and nothing could be distinguished in the man who came in but medium height, a white scarf, and a large, extremely pale face, so pale that its entrance seemed to make the passage lighter.
Is the doctor at home? the newcomer asked quickly.
I am at home, answered Kirilov. What do you want?
Oh, its you? I am very glad, said the stranger in a tone of relief, and he began feeling in the dark for the doctors hand, found it and squeezed it tightly in his own. I am very very glad! We are acquainted. My name is Abogin, and I had the honour of meeting you in the summer at Gnutchevs. I am very glad I have found you at home. For Gods sake dont refuse to come back with me at once. My wife has been taken dangerously ill. And the carriage is waiting.
From the voice and gestures of the speaker it could be seen that he was in a state of great excitement. Like a man terrified by a house on fire or a mad dog, he could hardly restrain his rapid breathing and spoke quickly in a shaking voice, and there was a note of unaffected sincerity and childish alarm in his voice. As people always do who are frightened and overwhelmed, he spoke in brief, jerky sentences and uttered a great many unnecessary, irrelevant words.
I was afraid I might not find you in, he went on. I was in a perfect agony as I drove here. Put on your things and let us go, for Gods sake. This is how it happened. Alexandr Semyonovitch Paptchinsky, whom you know, came to see me. We talked a little and then we sat down to tea; suddenly my wife cried out, clutched at her heart, and fell back on her chair. We carried her to bed and and I rubbed her forehead with ammonia and sprinkled her with water she lay as though she were dead. I am afraid it is aneurism. Come along her father died of aneurism.
Kirilov listened and said nothing, as though he did not understand Russian.
When Abogin mentioned again Paptchinsky and his wifes father and once more began feeling in the dark for his hand the doctor shook his head and said apathetically, dragging out each word:
Excuse me, I cannot come my son died five minutes ago!
Is it possible! whispered Abogin, stepping back a pace. My God, at what an unlucky moment I have come! A wonderfully unhappy day wonderfully. What a coincidence. Its as though it were on purpose!
Abogin took hold of the door-handle and bowed his head. He was evidently hesitating and did not know what to dowhether to go away or to continue entreating the doctor.
Listen, he said fervently, catching hold of Kirilovs sleeve. I well understand your position! God is my witness that I am ashamed of attempting at such a moment to intrude on your attention, but what am I to do? Only think, to whom can I go? There is no other doctor here, you know. For Gods sake come! I am not asking you for myself. I am not the patient!
A silence followed. Kirilov turned his back on Abogin, stood still a moment, and slowly walked into the drawing-room. Judging from his unsteady, mechanical step, from the attention with which he set straight the fluffy shade on the unlighted lamp in the drawing-room and glanced into a thick book lying on the
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