Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 527
A six-year-old child—the only son of Kirolov, an aging doctor, and his wife, who cannot expect to have another child—has died of diphtheria. Just as the parents are beginning to succumb to grief, the doorbell rings. Leaving his wife beside the dead child’s bed, Kirolov goes to the door. There he finds a man who is so distraught that he can hardly speak. After the man manages to introduce himself as Aboguin, he says that his wife has collapsed and that he believes her to be dying of heart failure. Because he has no inkling of what has just happened to Kirolov’s family, Aboguin assumes that the doctor will, as a matter of course, come with him immediately. Although the doctor is still in shock, he pulls himself together enough to explain why he cannot go. Aboguin tries to be sympathetic but points out that Kirolov is the only doctor in the area, and without his help, his wife almost certainly will die.
While Aboguin waits in the hallway, Kirolov wanders aimlessly about his house, looking at a book, sitting down for a time in his study, and finally ending up in the bedroom, where his wife is still prostrate beside the body of their dead child. After standing there for some minutes, Kirolov returns to the hall, where Aboguin is still waiting for him. Again, Aboguin insists on the doctor’s going to his wife; again, Kirolov refuses. When Aboguin reminds Kirolov of his ethical responsibility and promises that it will take no more than an hour to make the trip, the doctor agrees to go. Shortly after they set off in Aboguin’s carriage, Kirolov thinks once more of his wife, and asks Aboguin to stop. Aboguin ignores his outburst, and the coach speeds on through the night.
When the carriage finally stops, Kirolov sees an imposing, brightly illuminated house. After the men go into the house, however, they are met with total silence. At first, Aboguin takes this to be a good sign; surely, he says, his wife cannot have died. Leaving the doctor in a luxurious drawing room, Aboguin goes to find out what has happened. Soon he returns with the news that his wife is missing. Her collapse was evidently merely a ploy to get her husband out of the house; as soon as Aboguin left, she eloped with her husband’s friend, who had stayed in the house with her. Aboguin is devastated, but Kirolov cannot think of anything but his own grief. When Aboguin launches into a heartfelt speech about what he sees as the tragedy of his life, Kirolov’s indifference changes to anger, and he launches into a nasty verbal attack. Soon the two men are shouting insults at each other. When they part, it is as the bitterest of enemies.
As a result of this confrontation, Aboguin gives way to his emotions, fires all of his servants, and rushes off to complain to everyone he knows, thereby making a fool of himself. Kirolov goes home with a new hatred of the upper classes that will be with him as long as he lives.
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