When next morning she drove through her native town from the station homewards, the streets seemed to her empty and deserted. The snow looked grey, and the houses small, as though some one had squashed them. She was met by a funeral procession: the dead body was carried in an open coffin with banners.
“Meeting a funeral, they say, is lucky,” she thought.
There were white bills pasted in the windows of the house where Nina Fyodorovna used to live.
With a sinking at her heart she drove into her own courtyard and rang at the door. It was opened by a servant she did not know—a plump, sleepy-looking girl wearing a warm wadded jacket. As she went upstairs Yulia remembered how Laptev had declared his love there, but now the staircase was unscrubbed, covered with foot-marks. Upstairs in the cold passage patients were waiting in their out-door coats. And for some reason her heart beat violently, and she was so excited she could scarcely walk.
The doctor, who had grown even stouter, was sitting with a brick-red face and dishevelled hair, drinking tea. Seeing his daughter, he was greatly delighted, and even lacrymose. She thought that she was the only joy in this old man’s life, and much moved, she embraced him warmly, and told him she would stay a long time—till Easter. After taking off her things in her own room, she went back to the dining-room to have tea with him. He was pacing up and down with his hands in his pockets, humming, “Ru-ru-ru”; this meant that he was dissatisfied with something.
“You have a gay time of it in Moscow,” he said. “I am very glad for your sake. . . . I’m an old man and I need nothing. I shall soon give up the ghost and set you all free. And the wonder is that my hide is so tough, that I’m alive still! It’s amazing!”
He said that he was a tough old ass that every one rode on. They had thrust on him the care of Nina Fyodorovna, the worry of her children, and of her burial; and that coxcomb Panaurov would not trouble himself about it, and had even borrowed a hundred roubles from him and had never paid it back.
“Take me to Moscow and put me in a madhouse,” said the doctor. “I’m mad; I’m a simple child, as I still put faith in truth and justice.”
Then he found fault with her husband for his short-sightedness in not buying houses that were being sold so cheaply. And now it seemed to Yulia that she was not the one joy in this old man’s life. While he was seeing his patients, and afterwards going his rounds, she walked through all the rooms, not knowing what to do or what to think about. She had already grown strange to her own town and her own home. She felt no inclination to go into the streets or see her friends; and at the thought of her old friends and her life as a girl, she felt no sadness nor regret for the past.