Chekhov's Ward No. 6
His life was passed like this. As a rule he got up at eight
o'clock in the morning, dressed, and drank his tea. Then he sat
down in his study to read, or went to the hospital. At the
hospital the out-patients were sitting in the dark, narrow
little corridor waiting to be seen by the doctor. The nurses and
the attendants, tramping with their boots over the brick floors,
ran by them; gaunt-looking patients in dressing-gowns passed;
dead bodies and vessels full of filth were carried by; the
children were crying, and there was a cold draught. Andrey
Yefimitch knew that such surroundings were torture to feverish,
consumptive, and impressionable patients; but what could be
done? In the consulting-room he was met by his assistant, Sergey
Sergeyitch -- a fat little man with a plump, well-washed shaven
face, with soft, smooth manners, wearing a new loosely cut suit,
and looking more like a senator than a medical assistant. He had
an immense practice in the town, wore a white tie, and
considered himself more proficient than the doctor, who had no
practice. In the corner of the consulting-room there stood a
large ikon in a shrine with a heavy lamp in front of it, and
near it a candle-stand with a white cover on it. On the walls
hung portraits of bishops, a view of the Svyatogorsky Monastery,
and wreaths of dried cornflowers. Sergey Sergeyitch was
religious, and liked solemnity and decorum. The ikon had been
put up at his expense; at his instructions some one of the
patients read the hymns of praise in the consulting-room on
Sundays, and after the reading Sergey Sergeyitch himself went
through the wards with a censer and burned incense.
There were a great many patients, but the time was short, and so
the work was confined to the asking of a few brief questions and
the administration of some drugs, such as castor-oil or volatile
ointment. Andrey Yefimitch would sit with his cheek resting in
his hand, lost in thought and asking questions mechanically.
Sergey Sergeyitch sat down too, rubbing his hands, and from time
to time putting in his word.
"We suffer pain and poverty," he would say, "because we do not
pray to the merciful God as we should. Yes!"
Andrey Yefimitch never performed any operation when he was
seeing patients; he had long ago given up doing so, and the
sight of blood upset him. When he had to open a child's mouth in
order to look at its throat, and the child cried and tried to
defend itself with its little hands, the noise in his ears made
his head go round and brought tears to his eyes. He would make
haste to prescribe a drug, and motion to the woman to take the
He was soon wearied by the timidity of the patients and their
incoherence, by the proximity of the pious Sergey Sergeyitch, by
the portraits on the walls, and by his own questions which he
had asked over and over again for twenty years. And he would go
away after seeing five or six patients. The rest would be seen
by his assistant in his absence.
With the agreeable thought that, thank God, he had no private
practice now, and that no one would interrupt him, Andrey
Yefimitch sat down to the table immediately on reaching home and
took up a book. He read a great deal and always with enjoyment.
Half his salary went on buying books, and of the six rooms that
made up his abode three were heaped up with books and old
magazines. He liked best of all works on history and philosophy;
the only medical publication to which he subscribed was The
Doctor, of which he always read the last pages first. He would
always go on reading for several hours without a break and
without being weary. He did not read as rapidly and impulsively
as Ivan Dmitritch had done in the past, but slowly and with
concentration, often pausing over a passage which he liked or
did not find intelligible. Near the books there always stood a
decanter of vodka, and a salted cucumber or a pickled apple lay
beside it, not on a plate, but on the baize table-cloth. Every
half-hour he would pour himself out a glass of vodka and drink
it without taking his eyes off the book. Then without looking at
it he would feel for the cucumber and bite off a bit.
At three o'clock he would go cautiously to the kitchen door;
cough, and say, "Daryushka, what about dinner? . ."
After his dinner -- a rather poor and untidily served one --
Andrey Yefimitch would walk up and down his rooms with his arms
folded, thinking. The clock would strike four, then five, and
still he would be walking up and down thinking. Occasionally the
kitchen door would creak, and the red and sleepy face of
Daryushka would appear.
"Andrey Yefimitch, isn't it time for you to have your beer?" she
would ask anxiously.
"No, it's not time yet . . ." he would answer. "I'll wait a
little. . . . I'll wait a little. . ."
Towards the evening the postmaster, Mihail Averyanitch, the only
man in town whose society did not bore Andrey Yefimitch, would
come in. Mihail Averyanitch had once been a very rich landowner,
and had served in the calvary, but had come to ruin, and was
forced by poverty to take a job in the post office late in life.
He had a hale and hearty appearance, luxuriant grey whiskers,
the manners of a well-bred man, and a loud, pleasant voice. He
was good-natured and emotional, but hot-tempered. When anyone in
the post office made a protest, expressed disagreement, or even
began to argue, Mihail Averyanitch would turn crimson, shake all
over, and shout in a voice of thunder, "Hold your tongue!" so
that the post office had long enjoyed the reputation of an
institution which it was terrible to visit. Mihail Averyanitch
liked and respected Andrey Yefimitch for his culture and the
loftiness of his soul; he treated the other inhabitants of the
town superciliously, as though they were his subordinates.
"Here I am," he would say, going in to Andrey Yefimitch. "Good
evening, my dear fellow! I'll be bound, you are getting sick of
me, aren't you?"
"On the contrary, I am delighted," said the doctor. "I am always
glad to see you."
The friends would sit on the sofa in the study and for some time
would smoke in silence.
"Daryushka, what about the beer?" Andrey Yefimitch would say.
They would drink their first bottle still in silence, the doctor
brooding and Mihail Averyanitch with a gay and animated face,
like a man who has something very interesting to tell. The
doctor was always the one to begin the conversation.
"What a pity," he would say quietly and slowly, not looking his
friend in the face (he never looked anyone in the face) -- "what
a great pity it is that there are no people in our town who are
capable of carrying on intelligent and interesting conversation,
or care to do so. It is an immense privation for us. Even the
educated class do not rise above vulgarity; the level of their
development, I assure you, is not a bit higher than that of the
"Perfectly true. I agree."
"You know, of course," the doctor went on quietly and
deliberately, "that everything in this world is insignificant
and uninteresting except the higher spiritual manifestations of
the human mind. Intellect draws a sharp line between the animals
and man, suggests the divinity of the latter, and to some extent
even takes the place of the immortality which does not exist.
Consequently the intellect is the only possible source of
enjoyment. We see and hear of no trace of intellect about us, so
we are deprived of enjoyment. We have books, it is true, but
that is not at all the same as living talk and converse. If you
will allow me to make a not quite apt comparison: books are the
printed score, while talk is the singing."
A silence would follow. Daryushka would come out of the kitchen
and with an expression of blank dejection would stand in the
doorway to listen, with her face propped on her fist.
"Eh!" Mihail Averyanitch would sigh. "To expect intelligence of
And he would describe how wholesome, entertaining, and
interesting life had been in the past. How intelligent the
educated class in Russia used to be, and what lofty ideas it had
of honour and friendship; how they used to lend money without an
IOU, and it was thought a disgrace not to give a helping hand to
a comrade in need; and what campaigns, what adventures, what
skirmishes, what comrades, what women! And the Caucasus, what a
marvellous country! The wife of a battalion commander, a queer
woman, used to put on an officer's uniform and drive off into
the mountains in the evening, alone, without a guide. It was
said that she had a love affair with some princeling in the
"Queen of Heaven, Holy Mother..." Daryushka would sigh.
"And how we drank! And how we ate! And what desperate liberals
Andrey Yefimitch would listen without hearing; he was musing as
he sipped his beer.
"I often dream of intellectual people and conversation with
them," he said suddenly, interrupting Mihail Averyanitch. "My
father gave me an excellent education, but under the influence
of the ideas of the sixties made me become a doctor. I believe
if I had not obeyed him then, by now I should have been in the
very centre of the intellectual movement. Most likely I should
have become a member of some university. Of course, intellect,
too, is transient and not eternal, but you know why I cherish a
partiality for it. Life is a vexatious trap; when a thinking man
reaches maturity and attains to full consciousness he cannot
help feeling that he is in a trap from which there is no escape.
Indeed, he is summoned without his choice by fortuitous
circumstances from non-existence into life . . . what for? He
tries to find out the meaning and object of his existence; he is
told nothing, or he is told absurdities; he knocks and it is not
opened to him; death comes to him -- also without his choice.
And so, just as in prison men held together by common misfortune
feel more at ease when they are together, so one does not notice
the trap in life when people with a bent for analysis and
generalization meet together and pass their time in the
interchange of proud and free ideas. In that sense the intellect
is the source of an enjoyment nothing can replace."
Not looking his friend in the face, Andrey Yefimitch would go
on, quietly and with pauses, talking about intellectual people
and conversation with them, and Mihail Averyanitch would listen
attentively and agree: "Perfectly true."
"And you do not believe in the immortality of the soul?" he
would ask suddenly.
"No, honoured Mihail Averyanitch; I do not believe it, and have
no grounds for believing it."
"I must own I doubt it too. And yet I have a feeling as though I
should never die. Oh, I think to myself: 'Old fogey, it is time
you were dead!' But there is a little voice in my soul says:
'Don't believe it; you won't die.' "
Soon after nine o'clock Mihail Averyanitch would go away. As he
put on his fur coat in the entry he would say with a sigh:
"What a wilderness fate has carried us to, though, really!
What's most vexatious of all is to have to die here. Ech! . ."