In the wealthy house of a Jewish woman in Odessa at the next-to-last turn of the century, Belya is busy in the kitchen, preparing a festive dinner, since the betrothal of the daughter of the house is approaching. The widowed cook bemoans her tedious work and her lonely life without a husband. The book lender appears with new books, and Belya gives him food and drink. While he eats his fill, the cook tells him all the latest gossip about her employers. With every glass that he empties, the book lender becomes more talkative and brash: first, he touts his socialist books, shortly thereafter he suggests to Belya, in view of the money she has put aside, that she establish a capital collective together with him.
Khaim, the neighbor’s servant, comes in and starts complaining about his employers. Finally, Fradl appears in the kitchen, a funny little song on her lips. Khaim, who at first hid himself from her, comes out and begins ardently flirting with the maid. Exuberant merrymaking and drinking commence, and when the atmosphere reaches its climax, Belya and the book lender decide to quit their jobs and become engaged. Elated, the book lender reads aloud particularly beautiful passages from the books he brought with him. Inspired by the bliss of love of the newly betrothed, Khaim suggests a wedding-eve party, and then spontaneously turns to Fradl with a marriage proposal, which she, after initial reluctance, ultimately accepts.
Suddenly, the lady of the house appears and interrupts the joyous singing and banter ...