A. Chekhov A
Professor of Medicine Nikolai Stepanovich is a scientist who has reached the heights of his science, enjoying universal respect and gratitude; his name is known to every literate person in Russia. He who wears this name, that is himself, is an old man, incurably sick, to live according to his own diagnosis, there are not more than six months left. In his notes he tries to understand the situation in which he found himself, his famous man, sentenced to death. He describes the usual course of his present life.
Insomnia every night. Home – the wife and daughter of Liza, whom he used to love, now only irritate him with his petty worldly worries. Closest employees: an eccentric and faithful university porter Nikolai, prozaktor Petr Ignatievich, a crowbar horse and a learned dumbhead. The work, which used to give Nikolai Stepanovich pleasure, his university lectures, once equal to the poet’s works, now bring him only torment.
Nikolai Stepanovich is not a philosopher or a theologian, his whole life of the fate of the bone marrow interested him more than the ultimate goal of the universe, his soul does not want to know questions about the afterlife. But what pleased his life – peace and happiness in the family, his beloved work, self-confidence – was gone forever. New thoughts, which he did not know before, poison his last days. It seems to him that his life was deceived, his glorious name, his brilliant past
Ordinary visitors of the old professor. A colleague in the faculty, a negligent student, who solicits a subject for a dissenter, everyone seems to Nikolai Stepanovich to be ridiculous, narrow-minded, limited, each gives rise to irritation or mockery. But here’s another, a welcome visitor: familiar steps, rustling dresses, a sweet voice…
Katya, the daughter of the late comrade-oculist, grew up in the family of Nikolai Stepanovich. By the time she was fifteen she was overcome by a passionate love for the theater. Dreaming of fame and service to art, gullible and addicted, she went to provincial actresses, but two years later she became disillusioned in theater, in comrades on stage, lost faith in her talent, experienced unhappy love, attempted suicide, buried her child. Nikolai Stepanovich, who loved Katya as a daughter, tried to help her with advice, wrote her long, but useless letters. Now, after the crash, Katya lives on the remnants of her father’s inheritance. She lost interest in life, lies at home on the couch and reads books, but visits Nicholas Stepanovich once a day. His wife and Liza do not like her, they pay her back.
An ordinary family dinner, too, does not bring Nikolai Stepanovich anything but irritation. Present wife, Lisa, two or three of her friends at the Conservatory and Alexander Adolfovich Gnekker – personality, which inspires the professor of acute antipathy. A fan of Lisa and a contender for her hand, he happens in the house every day, but no one knows what kind of origin and means he lives on. Selling somewhere someone’s pianos, familiar with celebrities, judges about music with great authority – lived with art, draws for himself the conclusion of Nikolai Stepanovich.
He sadly recalls the previous, simple and funny family dinners, gloomily thinks that for a long time the inner life of his wife and Lisa has eluded his observation. They have long been not the same as he knew and loved them before. Why there was a change – he does not know.
After dinner, his wife, as usual, begs him to go to Kharkov, where the Gnekker comes from, to put there inquiries about his parents and state.
From the feeling of loneliness, from fear of insomnia, Nikolai Stepanovich leaves the house. Where to go? The answer has long been clear to him: to Katya.
Only Katya is warm and cozy to him, only she can complain about her condition. Before, he tells her, he had the feeling of a king, he could be indulgent, forgiving everyone to the right and to the left. But now in his head day and night wandering evil thoughts, decent only to slaves. He became inordinately strict, demanding, irritable. His whole past life seems to him a beautiful, talented composition, it remains only not to spoil the finale, to meet death cheerfully and with a calm soul. “But I’m ruining the finale…”
Katya has another guest, philologist Mikhail Fedorovich. He, obviously, is in love with her and does not dare to admit it to her. He entertains with anecdotes from university life, and his slander also irritates Nikolai Stepanovich. Talk about the grinding of a new generation, the lack of ideals among young people, he interrupts with sharp objections. But about himself, he feels that the evil, “Arakcheev” thoughts own and his being. And to the interlocutors, whom he compared with evil toads, he is drawn again every evening.
Summer comes, the professor and his family live in the country.
At night, as before, insomnia, but in the afternoon instead of work – reading French books. Nikolai Stepanovich knows what creativity and its main condition are: the feeling of personal freedom. His judgments about literature, theater, science are precise and precise. But the thought of a near death, now in three or four months, it is not left. Visitors are the same: doorman, prosector; dinners with the participation of the same Gnekker.
He calls to ride a professor on his drums, Katya. She understands that her life does not add up, that time and money go away aimlessly. “What should I do?” she asks. “What shall I say to her?” – reflects Nikolai Stepanovich. It’s easy to say “work hard”, or “hand out your property to the poor”, or “know yourself”, but these general and patterned advice are unlikely to help in this particular case. In the evenings at the dacha at Katya is still the same Mikhail Fedorovich, in love and malicious. And Nikolai Stepanovich, who had previously condemned attacks on the university, students, literature, theater, he himself now takes part in slander.
There are terrible nights with thunder, lightning, rain and wind, which in people are called passerines. And Nikolay Stepanovich is experiencing one such night.
He wakes up from the fear of sudden death, can not cope with his unconscious horror. Suddenly there are either moans or laughter. The wife comes running, calls him to Lisa’s room. She moans with some kind of torment, throws her father round her neck: “My dad is good… I do not know what’s wrong with me… It’s hard!” “Yes, help her, help,” the wife implores. “Do something!” “What can I do? I can not do anything,” the father thinks. “The girl’s heart is heavy, but I do not understand anything, I do not know and I can only mumble:” Nothing, nothing.. It will pass… Sleep, sleep… ”
A few hours later he was in his room, still does not sleep, he hears a knock on the window. This is Katya. And she had some bad apprehensions this night. She begs Nicholas Stepanovich to take her money from her and go somewhere to be treated.
Nikolai Stepanovich in Kharkov, where his wife persistently sent. The state of anger and irritation was replaced by a new: complete indifference. He learns here that they do not know anything about Gnecker in the city, but when a telegram comes from his wife, with the message that Gnecker was secretly married to Liza, he meets the news with indifference. This frightens him: indifference is the paralysis of the soul, premature death.
The morning finds him sitting in bed in a hotel room occupied with the same persistent thoughts. It seems to him that he understood the reason for the weakness that led him on the eve of the end to evil, slavish thoughts, and then to indifference. The fact is that in his thoughts, feelings, judgments there is no general idea, or the god of a living person. “And if there is not, then, then, there is nothing and nothing.” If there is not something in common that would tie everything together, there would have been a serious ailment, a fear of death, so that everything in which the meaning and joy of life was seen would be shattered. Nikolai Stepanovich finally surrenders and decides to sit and wait silently for what will be.
There is a knock at the door, Katya is standing in front of him. She came, she says, just like that, dropping a letter from Mikhail Fedorovich. Then, turning pale and clasping his hands, he turns to Nikolai Stepanovich: “For the sake of the true God, say quickly, this minute: what should I do? … After all, you are my father, my only friend! .. You were a teacher! Say what I do? ”
Nikolai Stepanovich hardly stands on his feet, he is confused. “Honestly, Katya, I do not know… Come on, Katya, have breakfast.” Not having received the answer, she leaves – where, does not know herself. And she probably sees her for the last time. “Farewell, my treasure!”