IN the cheapest room of a big block of furnished apartments Stepan Klotchkov, a medical student in his third year, was walking to and fro, zealously conning his anatomy. His mouth was dry and his forehead perspiring from the unceasing effort to learn it by heart.
In the window, covered by patterns of frost, sat on a stool the girl who shared his room — Anyuta, a thin little brunette of five-and-twenty, very pale with mild grey eyes. Sitting with bent back she was busy embroidering with red thread the collar of a man’s shirt. She was working against time. . . . The clock in the passage struck two drowsily, yet the little room had not been put to rights for the morning. Crumpled bed-clothes, pillows thrown about, books, clothes, a big filthy slop-pail filled with soap-suds in which cigarette ends were swimming, and the litter on the floor — all seemed as though purposely jumbled together in one confusion. . . .
“The right lung consists of three parts . . .” Klotchkov repeated. “Boundaries! Upper part on anterior wall of thorax reaches the fourth or fifth rib, on the lateral surface, the fourth rib . . . behind to the spina scapul. . .”
Klotchkov raised his eyes to the ceiling, striving to visualise what he had just read. Unable to form a clear picture of it, he began feeling his upper ribs through his waistcoat.
“These ribs are like the keys of a piano,” he said. “One must familiarise oneself with them somehow, if one is not to get muddled over them. One must study them in the skeleton and the living body. . . . I say, Anyuta, let me pick them out.”
Anyuta put down her sewing, took off her blouse, and straightened herself up. Klotchkov sat down facing her, frowned, and began counting her ribs.
“H’m! . . . One can’t feel the first rib; it’s behind the shoulder-blade. . . . This must be the second rib. . . . Yes . . . this is the third . . . this is the fourth. . . . H’m! . . . yes. . . . Why are you wriggling?”
“Your fingers are cold!”
“Come, come . . . it won’t kill you. Don’t twist about. That must be the third rib, then . . . this is the fourth. . . . You look such a skinny thing, and yet one can hardly feel your ribs. That’s the second . . . that’s the third. . . . Oh, this is muddling, and one can’t see it clearly. . . . I must draw it. . . . Where’s my crayon?”
Klotchkov took his crayon and drew on Anyuta’s chest several parallel lines corresponding with the ribs.
“First-rate. That’s all straightforward. . . . Well, now I can sound you. Stand up!”
Anyuta stood up and raised her chin. Klotchkov began sounding her, and was so absorbed in this occupation that he did not notice how Anyuta’s lips, nose, and fingers turned blue with cold. Anyuta shivered, and was afraid the student, noticing it, would leave off drawing and sounding her, and then, perhaps, might fail in his exam.
“Now it’s all clear,” said Klotchkov when he had finished. “You sit like that and don’t rub off the crayon, and meanwhile I’ll learn up a little more.”
And the student again began walking to and fro, repeating to himself. Anyuta, with black stripes across her chest, looking as though she had been tattooed, sat thinking, huddled up and shivering with cold. She said very little as a rule; she was always silent, thinking and thinking. . . .
In the six or seven years of her wanderings from one furnished room to another, she had known five students like Klotchkov. Now they had all finished their studies, had gone out into the world, and, of course, like respectable people, had long ago forgotten her. One of them was living in Paris, two were doctors, the fourth was an artist, and the fifth was said to be already a professor. Klotchkov was the sixth. . . . Soon he, too, would finish his studies and go out into the world. There was a fine future before him, no doubt, and Klotchkov probably would become a great man, but the present was anything but bright; Klotchkov had no tobacco and no tea, and there were only four lumps of sugar left. She must make haste and finish her embroidery, take it to the woman who had ordered it, and with the quarter rouble she would get for it, buy tea and tobacco.
“Can I come in?” asked a voice at the door.
Anyuta quickly threw a woollen shawl over her shoulders. Fetisov, the artist, walked in.
“I have come to ask you a favour,” he began, addressing Klotchkov, and glaring like a wild beast from under the long locks that hung over his brow. “Do me a favour; lend me your young lady just for a couple of hours! I’m painting a picture, you see, and I can’t get on without a model.”
“Oh, with pleasure,” Klotchkov agreed. “Go along, Anyuta.”
“The things I’ve had to put up with there,” Anyuta murmured softly.
“Rubbish! The man’s asking you for the sake of art, and not for any sort of nonsense. Why not help him if you can?”
Anyuta began dressing.
“And what are you painting?” asked Klotchkov.
“Psyche; it’s a fine subject. But it won’t go, somehow. I have to keep painting from different models. Yesterday I was painting one with blue legs. ‘Why are your legs blue?’ I asked her. ‘It’s my stockings stain them,’ she said. And you’re still grinding! Lucky fellow! You have patience.”
“Medicine’s a job one can’t get on with without grinding.”
“H’m! . . . Excuse me, Klotchkov, but you do live like a pig! It’s awful the way you live!”
“How do you mean? I can’t help it. . . . I only get twelve roubles a month from my father, and it’s hard to live decently on that.”
“Yes . . . yes . . .” said the artist, frowning with an air of disgust; “but, still, you might live better. . . . An educated man is in duty bound to have taste, isn’t he? And goodness knows what it’s like here! The bed not made, the slops, the dirt . . . yesterday’s porridge in the plates. . . Tfoo!”
“That’s true,” said the student in confusion; “but Anyuta has had no time to-day to tidy up; she’s been busy all the while.”
When Anyuta and the artist had gone out Klotchkov lay down on the sofa and began learning, lying down; then he accidentally dropped asleep, and waking up an hour later, propped his head on his fists and sank into gloomy reflection. He recalled the artist’s words that an educated man was in duty bound to have taste, and his surroundings actually struck him now as loathsome and revolting. He saw, as it were in his mind’s eye, his own future, when he would see his patients in his consulting-room, drink tea in a large dining-room in the company of his wife, a real lady. And now that slop-pail in which the cigarette ends were swimming looked incredibly disgusting. Anyuta, too, rose before his imagination — a plain, slovenly, pitiful figure . . . and he made up his mind to part with her at once, at all costs.
When, on coming back from the artist’s, she took off her coat, he got up and said to her seriously:
“Look here, my good girl . . . sit down and listen. We must part! The fact is, I don’t want to live with you any longer.”
Anyuta had come back from the artist’s worn out and exhausted. Standing so long as a model had made her face look thin and sunken, and her chin sharper than ever. She said nothing in answer to the student’s words, only her lips began to tremble.
“You know we should have to part sooner or later, anyway,” said the student. “You’re a nice, good girl, and not a fool; you’ll understand. . . .”
Anyuta put on her coat again, in silence wrapped up her embroidery in paper, gathered together her needles and thread: she found the screw of paper with the four lumps of sugar in the window, and laid it on the table by the books.
“That’s . . . your sugar . . . ” she said softly, and turned away to conceal her tears.
“Why are you crying?” asked Klotchkov.
He walked about the room in confusion, and said:
“You are a strange girl, really. . . . Why, you know we shall have to part. We can’t stay together for ever.”
She had gathered together all her belongings, and turned to say good-bye to him, and he felt sorry for her.
“Shall I let her stay on here another week?” he thought. “She really may as well stay, and I’ll tell her to go in a week;” and vexed at his own weakness, he shouted to her roughly:
“Come, why are you standing there? If you are going, go; and if you don’t want to, take off your coat and stay! You can stay!”
Anyuta took off her coat, silently, stealthily, then blew her nose also stealthily, sighed, and noiselessly returned to her invariable position on her stool by the window.
The student drew his textbook to him and began again pacing from corner to corner. “The right lung consists of three parts,” he repeated; “the upper part, on anterior wall of thorax, reaches the fourth or fifth rib . . . .”
In the passage some one shouted at the top of his voice: “Grigory! The samovar!”