On a snowy night, a country doctor desperately seeks a way to reach a very sick patient in a village some fifty miles away. His own horse died from overexertion the night before, and Rosa, his servant girl, has found no other horse in the village for his carriage. While absentmindedly searching his barnyard, he accidentally knocks open the door to an unused pigsty, only to find there two powerfully built horses and a groom. He instructs Rosa to help the groom hitch the horses to his carriage, but the groom attacks her as soon as she gets near him. The doctor climbs into the carriage but is reluctant to leave when the groom says that he plans to stay behind with Rosa, which causes her to run screaming into the house. The doctor protests in vain, as the horses whisk him away and arrive seemingly instantaneously at the patient’s door.
The parents and sister of the patient rush out to greet the doctor and practically carry him into the poorly ventilated room of the sick boy. The boy, thin but without a fever, whispers to the doctor that he wants to die. At a loss as to what to do, the doctor aimlessly takes out his instruments and curses the miraculous assistance that has been provided him. He suddenly remembers Rosa, toward whom he has never paid much attention but whose fate now troubles him.
The horses manage to open a window in order to observe the sick boy. One neighs loudly when the doctor approaches the bed. As an underpaid employee of the district in which he works, the doctor believes that he is taken advantage of by his impoverished clientele. He convinces himself that the boy is not sick after all and prepares to leave but is interrupted by the disappointed parents. Their intervention brings him to admit that the boy might be sick after all, and when he approaches the bed a second time, both horses neigh loudly in approval.
The doctor discovers that the boy is indeed very sick. There is a hand-sized wound on his right hip, pink (rosa, in German), with many shadings and containing worms the size of his fingers. Although the family is overjoyed to see the doctor’s activity, he thinks to himself that there is no possible way to save the boy. These people always “demand the impossible from the doctor,” he thinks; “they’ve lost their old faith; the minister sits at home and pulls apart his vestments, one after another; and the doctor is supposed to do everything with his delicate surgical hand.”
As a school choir sings, “If you undress him, he will heal,” the family and the recently arrived village elders...
(The entire section is 690 words.)