The Schoolmaster and Other Stories
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 doctor's wife sank on
her knees by the dead child's 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, it's you? I am very glad," said the stranger in a tone of relief, and he began feeling in
the dark for the doctor's 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 Gnutchev's. I am very glad I have found you at home. For God's sake
don't 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 God's 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 wife's father and once more began
feeling in the dark for his hand the doctor shook his head and said apathetically, dragging
out each word: