Toward the end of winter, in the house of the Shcherbatskys, a consultation was being held, which was to determine the state of Kitty's health, and what was to be done 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 lunar caustic; but since neither the first, nor the second, nor the third availed, and since his advice was to go abroad before the beginning of the spring, a celebrated doctor was called in. The celebrated doctor, not yet old and a very handsome man, demanded an examination of the patient. He maintained, with special satisfaction, it seemed, that maiden modesty is merely a relic of barbarism, and that nothing could be more natural than for a man who was not yet old to handle a young girl in the nude. He deemed this natural, because he did it every day, and neither felt nor thought, as it seemed to him, anything evil as he did it and, consequently, he considered girlish modesty not merely as a relic of barbarism, but, as well, an insult to himself.
It was necessary to submit, for, although all the doctors studied in the same school, all using the same textbooks, and all learned in the same science, and though some people said this celebrated doctor was but a poor doctor, in the Princess's household and circle it was for some reason held that this celebrated doctor alone had some peculiar knowledge, and that he alone could save Kitty. After thorough examination and tapping of the patient, distraught and dazed with shame, the celebrated doctor, having painstakingly washed his hands, was standing in the drawing room talking to the Prince. The Prince frowned and coughed as he listened 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 at soul was wrought up with all this comedy, especially as he was probably the only one who fully understood the cause of Kitty's illness. "You're barking up the wrong tree," he mentally applied this phrase from the hunter's vocabulary to the celebrated doctor, as he listened to the latter's patter about the symptoms of his daughter's complaint. The doctor, for his part, found difficulty in restraining the expression of his contempt for this old grandee, as well as in condescending to the low level of his comprehension. He perceived that it was useless to talk to the old man, and that the head of this house was the mother- and she it was before whom he intended to scatter his pearls. It was at this point that the Princess entered the drawing room with the family doctor. The Prince retreated, doing his best not to betray how ridiculous he regarded the whole comedy. The Princess was distraught, and did not know what to do. She felt herself at fault before Kitty.
"Well, doctor, decide our fate," said the Princess. "Tell me everything."- "Is there any hope?" was what she had wanted to say, but her lips quivered, and she could not utter this question. "Well, doctor?"
"Immediately, Princess- I will discuss the matter with my colleague, and then have the honor of laying my opinion before you."
"Then we had better leave you?"
"As you please."
The Princess, with a sigh, stepped outside.
When the doctors were left alone, the family doctor began timidly explaining his opinion, that there was an incipient tubercular process, but... and so on. The celebrated doctor listened to him, and in the middle of the other's speech looked at his big gold watch.
"That is so," said he. "But..."
The family doctor respectfully ceased in the middle of his speech.
"As you know, we cannot determine the incipience of the tubercular process; until the appearance of vomicae there is nothing determinate. But we may suspect it. And there are indications: malnutrition, nervous excitability, and so on. The question stands thus: if we suspect a tubercular process, what must we do to maintain nutrition?"
"But then, you know, there are always moral, spiritual causes at the back of these cases," the family doctor permitted himself to interpolate with a subtle smile.
"Yes, that's to be taken for granted," retorted the celebrated doctor, again glancing at his watch. "Beg pardon- but is the Iauzsky bridge finished yet, or must one still make a detour?" he asked. "Ah! It is finished. Well, in that case I can make it in twenty minutes. As we were saying, the question may be posited thus: the nutrition must be maintained and the nerves improved. The one is bound with the other; one must work upon both sides of this circle."
"But what about the trip abroad?" asked the family doctor.
"I am a foe to trips abroad. And take notice: if there is any incipient tubercular process, which we cannot know, a trip abroad will not help. We must have a remedy that would improve nutrition, and do no harm."
And the celebrated doctor expounded his plan of treatment with Soden waters, in designating which his main end was evidently their harmlessness.
The family doctor heard him out attentively and respectfully.
"But in favor of foreign travel I would urge the change of habits, the removal from conditions which evoke memories. And then- the mother wishes it," he added.
"Ah! Well, in that case, one might go; well, let them go; but those German charlatans may do harm.... Our instructions ought to be followed.... Well, let them go then."
He again glanced at his watch.
"Oh! it's time to go," and he went to the door.
The celebrated doctor informed the Princess (prompted by a feeling of propriety) that he must see the patient once more.
"What! Another examination!" the mother exclaimed in horror.
"Oh, no- I merely need certain details, Princess."
"Come this way."
And the mother, followed by the doctor, went into the drawing room to Kitty. Wasted and blushing, with a peculiar glitter in her eyes- a consequence of the shame she had gone through, Kitty was standing in the middle of the room. When the doctor came in she turned crimson, and her eyes filled with tears. All her illness and its treatment seemed to her a thing so stupid- even funny! Treatment seemed to her as funny as reconstructing the pieces of a broken vase. It was her heart that was broken. Why, then, did they want to cure her with pills and powders? But she could not hurt her mother- all the more so since her mother considered herself to blame.
"May I trouble you to sit down, Princess?" the celebrated doctor said to her.
Smiling, he, sat down facing her, felt her pulse, and again started in with his tiresome questions. She answered him, and suddenly, becoming angry, got up.
"You must pardon me, doctor- but really, this will lead us nowhere. You ask me the same things, three times running."
The celebrated doctor did not take umbrage.
"Sickly irritability," said he to the Princess, when Kitty had left the room. "However, I had finished...."
And the doctor scientifically defined to the Princess, as to an exceptionally clever woman, the condition of the young Princess, and concluded by explaining the mode of drinking the unnecessary waters. When the question of going abroad came up, the doctor was plunged into profound considerations, as though deciding a weighty problem. Finally his decision was given: they might go abroad, but must put no faith in charlatans, but turn to him in everything.
It seemed as though some cheerful influence had sprung up after the doctor's departure. The mother grew more cheerful when she returned to her daughter, while Kitty too pretended to be more cheerful. She had frequent, almost constant, occasions to be pretending now.
"Really, I'm quite well, maman. But if you want to go abroad, let's!" she said, and, trying to show that she was interested in the proposed trip, she began talking of the preparations for the departure.