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Gambling, alcohol and flirtations consummated in a beautiful countryside hold obvious attractions for Laevsky. Laevsky and Nadyezhda are lovers. They came to flee Nadyezhda's husband and to live together in their own home. Instead, they remain in rented rooms. Laevsky drinks, gambles, and blankly performs the few tasks necessary in his government job. He spends much of his time figuring out how to get away from Nadyezhda, whom he has grown to hate. Nadyezhda herself is bored and has affairs. Von Koren, another character in the story, is an arrogant man of science. He believes that creatures like Laevsky who do no good should be killed, because natural selection ought to guide ethical decisions. He tries to act out his plan when the two duel.