Kiev. The family of Mertsalovs has been hiding in the damp basement of the old house for more than a year. The youngest child is hungry and screams in his cradle. The girl is older than the temperature, but there is no money for the medicine. On the New Year’s Eve, Mertsalov sends two older sons to a man whose husband worked as a manager. The woman hopes that he will help them, but the children are kicked out without giving a penny.
In this terrible fateful year, misfortune for misfortune persistently and ruthlessly fell on Mertsalov and his family.
Mertsalov fell ill with typhus. While he was recovering, another man took his place as manager. All the savings of the family went to medicines, and Mertsalov had to move to a damp cellar. Children began to hurt. One girl died three months ago, and now Masha is sick. In search of money for medicine Mertsalov ran around the whole city, humiliated, begged, but did not get a penny.
Learning that the children, too, did not work, Mertsalov leaves.
He was possessed by an irresistible desire to run anywhere, run without looking, just to not see the silent desperation of a hungry family.
Mertsalov wanders aimlessly around the city and turns into a public garden. There is a deep silence here. Mertsalov wants peace, a thought comes to mind about suicide. He almost dares, but then a small old man in a fur coat sits next to him. He talks with Mertsalov about New Year’s gifts, and that covers “the tide of desperate rage.” The old man, however, does not take offense, but asks Mertsalov to tell everything in order.
About ten minutes later the old man, who turned out to be a doctor, is already entering the cellar of the Mertsalovs. Immediately appear money for wood and food. The old man writes a free prescription and leaves, leaving a few large bills on the table. The name of the wonderful doctor – professor Pirogov – Mertsalov is found on the label attached to the medicine bottle.
Since then, “exactly a benevolent angel descended” into the family of the Mertsalovs. The head of the family finds work, and the children recover. With Pirogov, their fate only reduces once – at his funeral.
The narrator learns this story from one of the brothers Mertsalov who became a major employee of the bank.