A six-year-old child—the only son of Kirolov, an aging doctor, and his wife, who cannot expect to have another child—has died of diphtheria. Just as the parents are beginning to succumb to grief, the doorbell rings. Leaving his wife beside the dead child’s bed, Kirolov goes to the door. There he finds a man who is so distraught that he can hardly speak. After the man manages to introduce himself as Aboguin, he says that his wife has collapsed and that he believes her to be dying of heart failure. Because he has no inkling of what has just happened to Kirolov’s family, Aboguin assumes that the doctor will, as a matter of course, come with him immediately. Although the doctor is still in shock, he pulls himself together enough to explain why he cannot go. Aboguin tries to be sympathetic but points out that Kirolov is the only doctor in the area, and without his help, his wife almost certainly will die.
While Aboguin waits in the hallway, Kirolov wanders aimlessly about his house, looking at a book, sitting down for a time in his study, and finally ending up in the bedroom, where his wife is still prostrate beside the body of their dead child. After standing there for some minutes, Kirolov returns to the hall, where Aboguin is still waiting for him. Again, Aboguin insists on the doctor’s going to his wife; again, Kirolov refuses. When Aboguin reminds Kirolov of his ethical responsibility and promises that it will take no more than an hour to make...
(The entire section is 527 words.)