An army lieutenant named Klimov is returning home to his sister and aunt in Moscow and falls ill while on the train. His mouth is dry, his brain turns to mush, and he keeps hearing a strange voice cry, "Is the mail ready?" When he finally arrives at the station, he collapses. During the next days or weeks, he thrashes around his bed in delirium, latching onto disconnected images of a cheerful doctor, a grave priest, and various acquaintances and events.

One morning Klimov awakens feeling well. His whole being is filled with a sensation of happiness. He learns from the doctor that he has survived a case of spotted typhus. But where is his sister Katya? His aunt groans, "Ah, Katya, Katya! Our angel is gone! Is gone!" Indeed, Katya had caught typhus from her brother and died. Her funeral had taken place the day before. Pavel's "heart ached, he burst into tears, and leaned his forehead against the window frame."


The bacillus Rickettsia prowazeki, which is transmitted by lice, causes epidemic louse-borne typhus. The symptoms include high fever, muscle and joint pain, stiffness, headache, and a dark red body rash ("spotted"). Patients often become delirious. After two to three weeks, patients may suddenly recover. In severe epidemics, however, the mortality rate is often as high as 50 to 70 percent. Klimov's sister must have caught the disease from exposure to infected nits (louse eggs) in her brother's clothes or on his body.

The prospect of Klimov's return brought his aunt and sister great happiness; but in fact he carried death into the house. His joy in surviving typhus soon gave way to "the boredom of everyday life and the feeling of irrevocable loss."


First published: 1887. Translated from the Russian by Constance Garnett.

Primary Source

The Tales of Chekhov. Vol. 4: The Party and Other Stories



Place Published

New York

Page Count