At the end of the winter, in the Shtcherbatskys' house, a consultation was being
held, which was to pronounce on the state of Kitty's health and the measures to
be taken 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 nitrate of
silver, but as the first and the second and the third were alike in doing no good,
and as his advice when spring came was to go abroad, a celebrated physician
was called in. The celebrated physician, a very handsome man, still youngish,
asked to examine the patient. He maintained, with peculiar satisfaction, it
seemed, that maiden modesty is a mere relic of barbarism, and that nothing
could be more natural than for a man still youngish to handle a young girl naked.
He thought it natural because he did it every day, and felt and thought, as it
seemed to him, no harm as he did it and consequently he considered modesty in
the girl not merely as a relic of barbarism, but also as an insult to himself.
There was nothing for it but to submit, since, although all the doctors had studied
in the same school, had read the same books, and learned the same science,
and though some people said this celebrated doctor was a bad doctor, in the
princess's household and circle it was for some reason accepted that this
celebrated doctor alone had some special knowledge, and that he alone could
save Kitty. After a careful examination and sounding of the bewildered patient,
dazed with shame, the celebrated doctor, having scrupulously washed his hands,
was standing in the drawing room talking to the prince. The prince frowned and
coughed, listening 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 in his heart was
furious at the whole farce, specially as he was perhaps the only one who fully
comprehended the cause of Kitty's illness. "Conceited blockhead!" he thought, as
he listened to the celebrated doctor's chatter about his daughter's symptoms.
The doctor was meantime with difficulty restraining the expression of his
contempt for this old gentleman, and with difficulty condescending to the level of
his intelligence. He perceived that it was no good talking to the old man, and that
the principal person in the house was the mother. Before her he decided to
scatter his pearls. At that instant the princess came into the drawing room with
the family doctor. The prince withdrew, trying not to show how ridiculous he
thought the whole performance. The princess was distracted, and did not know
what to do. She felt she had sinned against Kitty.
"Well, doctor, decide our fate," said the princess. "Tell me everything."
"Is there hope?" she meant to say, but her lips quivered, and she could not utter
the question. "Well, doctor?"