The chapter titles are conditional.
Chapter 1: Meet the Turkin Family
The Turkin family was considered in the county town of S. the most talented, educated, and intelligent. Each member of this family had his own talent.
The head of the family, Ivan Petrovich, staged amateur charity productions, where he played old generals and had a very funny cough. At dinner parties he amused his guests with jokes and joked a lot.
His wife Vera Iosifovna read to the guests novels she herself had composed.
Their daughter Catherine played the piano.
The Turkins willingly received guests in their large stone house with a garden overgrown with lilacs, where knives clattered and fried onions smelled in the kitchen.
The young doctor Dmitry Ionitch Startsev, who had been appointed zemstvo physician in a nearby village, was repeatedly advised to meet the Turkins.
One winter, Startsev met Ivan Petrovich in town, and the latter invited him to visit.
Startsev was busy with his favorite work, and he managed to visit the Turkins only in the spring. He spent a pleasant day. Ivan Petrovich was joking, Vera Iosifovna was reading her novel "about things that never happen in life," and Catherine, whom her parents called Kotik, was playing the piano very loudly and energetically.
...Her shoulders and chest were shuddering, she was stubbornly hitting everything in one place, and it seemed like she wouldn't stop until she hammered the key inside the piano.
After spending the winter among the sick peasants, Startsev found it pleasant to listen to these sounds - loud, annoying, but which seemed so cultured to him. Startsev learned that Kotik did not attend the local gymnasium-the teachers came to her home to keep her from getting into bad influences. Despite her mother's objections, the girl wanted to go to Moscow, enter a conservatory and become a real pianist.
Startsev asked Vera Iosifovna if she printed her works in magazines, and she replied that she hid her written novels in the closet - why print them if they had enough money. As the guests were leaving, the Turkins' fourteen-year-old footman "acted out" a tragic scene - he posed, raised his hand and said: "Die, wretch." Everyone laughed. Startsev found the whole thing entertaining and not bad either.
Startsev had a lot of work to do, so he spent the next year "toiling and alone. He never managed to get out to see the Turkins. Finally Vera sent him a letter in which she asked him to come and treat her migraine. Startsev helped her, and she told all the guests what an amazing doctor he was.
Chapter 2. Startsev falls in love with Catherine
After that Startsev often came to the Turkins' house, but not for the sake of Vera Iosifovna, but because of Kotik. She delighted him with her freshness, simplicity and naive grace. Kotik seemed to Startsev over-age intelligent, though sometimes she would laugh and go away during a clever conversation or make some absurd remark. He begged her to go out into the garden to be alone with her.
One day Kotik slipped Startsev a note in which she appointed a date for him at eleven o'clock in the evening at the cemetery. He went there, though he knew that Kotik was only fooling around, and spent half the night wandering through the cemetery, burning with love, and then took a long ride home. Fortunately, he already had his own pair of horses and a coachman.
Chapter 3. Catherine Denies Startsev
The next day Startsev set out to propose to Kotik. He waited a long time for the barber to do her hair, but he did not think of love, but of the dowry and the fact that he would have to give up his zemstvo service and move to the city. The thought went round in his sleepless head that the spoiled and capricious Kotik was no match for him - a hard worker, a country doctor and a "deacon's son", but he banished it and thought: "Well, so what? And so what".
He could not talk to Kotik - she was on her way to the club for a dance party. Startsev drove her up and managed to kiss her on the way, but Catherine took the kiss coldly. In the evening, Startsev showed up at the club, proposed to Kotika, and unexpectedly got a rejection. She said she adored music, wanted to study at the Conservatory and could no longer stay in this town and continue her empty, useless life.
To become a wife - oh no, I'm sorry! A man should aspire to a higher, more brilliant goal, and family life would bind me forever.
Startsev's heart stopped beating. His ego was offended by such a silly ending, as in an amateur play, and he felt sorry for "his feeling, his love."
For three days Startsev neither ate nor slept. Then word reached him that Kotik "had gone to Moscow to enter the Conservatory," and he calmed down. Sometimes remembering how eager he was to win Kotik's love, Startsev said, "How much trouble, however!"
Chapter 4. Meeting Years Later
Four years passed. Startsev had many patients in the city, and he devoted less and less time to his zemstvo practice. He grew very fat and rode in a three-carriage with bells on it.
He did not get on well with his fellow townsfolk, as it was impossible to talk about politics or science with these limited people. At dinner parties he would eat and stare silently at his plate, for which he earned the nickname "the sulky Polack," though he was not a Pole.
Startsev did not go to the theater or concerts. Gradually he took a fancy to the screw card game and spent all his evenings playing it. Another of his hobbies was collecting money. Every night he would take out of his pockets the colored papers he had gotten by practice. When he collected a lot of them, he would take the money to the bank.
During this time, Startsev was at the Turkins' only twice - treating Vera Josephovna's migraine. He never met Catherine, though she came every summer.
One day Startsev received a letter from Vera Josephovna with an invitation, which Catherine also joined. He thought about it and went. The Turkins had not changed. The aged Vera Iosifovna was still reading her novels, Ivan Petrovich was still making the same jokes, Kotik was noisily playing the piano, and the footman, a mustachioed fellow, was still making the guests laugh with the phrase "Die, miserable!"
...If the most talented people in the whole town are so untalented, what must the town be like.
Startsev no longer saw in Catherine the freshness that had once charmed him. Kotik had grown old, had lost weight and turned pale, had turned into Catherine Ivanovna. Now she was looking into Starcev's eyes and asking to go into the garden with her. She did not see the fat, indifferent man, but the young, hard-working doctor who had been explaining his love to her.
Startsev was alone with Catherine, remembering how he had once looked after her, and a "light flickered" in his soul. He got to talking and complained about life:
We get old, we get fat, we get low. ...life passes dullly, without impressions, without thoughts... Making a profit during the day, and in the evening - in the club, in the company of gamblers, alcoholics, crooks, whom I can't stand.
Catherine Ivanovna objected that he had "work, a noble purpose in life," but she made the mistake of thinking she was a talented pianist - she was "as much a pianist as my mother is a writer." In Moscow she thought of Startsev and saw him as sublime, perfect.
Startsev suddenly remembered the pleasure that money brought him, and "the fire in his soul went out. Catherine Ivanovna asked him to come, but he ignored her letters and never visited the Turkins again.
Chapter 5. Startsev becomes Ionich
A few more years pass. Startsev became fat, panting and irritable, shouting at his patients. He had a huge practice in the city. He bought up houses in town and went to look at them, unceremoniously passing through rooms and ignoring "undressed women and children."
When he, plump, red, rides on a troika with bells... the picture is imposing, and it seems that not a man but a pagan god is riding.
Startsev did not abandon his zemstvo practice only because of greed. Both in the village and in the city he had long been known simply as Ionich. He lived alone, and his life was boring - the same collecting money and screwing in the evenings. When he heard about the Turkins, Ionich would ask: "Which Turkins do you mean? The ones whose daughter plays the pianos?"
Catherine Ivanovna did not marry either. She grew old, became ill, played the piano four hours a day, and every autumn she went with her mother to the Crimea. Ivan Petrovich, who had not abandoned his jokes, saw them off at the station and waved his handkerchief after them, wiping away their tears.