The story opens a story about the family of Petrusha Grinev and about his childhood. Seeking to teach the windy son “to the languages and all sciences” Father Andrei Petrovich hires the Frenchman Beaupre, who is more drunk. After some time the Frenchman is fired, after which Andrei Petrovich decides to send his son to the service in order to make him a true nobleman. But instead of the traditional brilliant career of a St. Petersburg officer, the father prefers for his son a harsh service in one of the fortresses on Yaik. On the way to Orenburg, Petr stops in Simbirsk, where he meets the hussar Ivan Zurin. The hussar undertakes to train Grinev to play billiards, and then, taking advantage of Peter’s simplicity, easily wins 100 rubles from him. Wanting to get rid of the guardianship sent with him Uncle Savelich, Peter returns the debt, despite the protests of the old man.
During the drive along the Orenburg steppe, Peter enters the snowstorm. The coachman was already desperate to lead the horses, when suddenly a certain peasant appears beside the draft, who is asking for counselors. The stranger correctly pointed the way, and the coachman managed to get his riders, including the new companion, to the inn. There the counselor starts an allegorical conversation with the host, which betrayed a “dashing man” in a stranger. After spending the night on your way, Grinev again sets out on the road, having thanked yesterday’s counselor with a hare’s sheepskin coat. In Orenburg, Petr falls into the hands of General Andrei Karlovich, his father’s old friend, and the general gives the young man directions to Belogorsky Fortress, lost forty versts from the city, on the border with the “Kirghiz steppes.”
Upon arriving at the fortress, which turned out to be a tiny village, Pyotr gets acquainted with the locals and, first of all, with the family of the old commandant. Great interest in Grinev is a witty officer Shvabrin, transferred to the fortress from St. Petersburg for violation of discipline and “killing”.
Having lived some time in the fortress, Grinev begins to feel sympathy for Masha Mironova, the daughter of the commandant. Shvabrin jealously stipulates Masha before Grinev, for which the young man summons an officer to a duel. During the duel, Shvabrin injures Grinev.
wounded Grinev, thanks to the care of the regimental barber and Masha, is quickly recovering. He forgives Shvabrin, because he sees in his actions a sign of the hurt pride of the rejected admirer. Peter himself asks Masha’s hands and receives the consent of the girl. The young man composes a touching letter for his father in order to solicit his blessing for an alliance with Marya Mironova. The father, who learned about the duel, is indignant and refuses.
The commandant receives a notice from Orenburg about the appearance on Yaike of “gang” Emelian Pugachev and instructs all officers in the fortress to prepare for a possible attack. Meanwhile, in the fortress there are scouts of the rebels. One of them, the Bashkir, manages to be seized, but it is impossible to interrogate him, because he is dead. The alarming news continues to arrive, and Mironov decides to send Masha out of the fortress.
To send the girl to Orenburg it was not possible, as in day of prospective departure the fortress was already surrounded by rebels. The commandant, apprehending defeat, said goodbye to his wife and daughter, ordering the girl to disguise herself as a peasant woman, so that she would not become a victim of the insurgents. Having easily captured the fortress, Pugachev proceeded to trial those who did not recognize him as their sovereign. At the instigation of the shifting to Pugachevites Shvabrin, the ringleader of the insurgents intended to execute Peter Grinev, but the faithful Savyelitch stood up for the “child”. Uncle on his knees begged forgiveness from Pugachev.
The leader of the rebels therefore pardoned the young master, who, after the appearance of Savelich, recognized in Petra his benefactor. Grinev did not recognize in the Cossack ataman of the leader until he was reminded by his uncle. Pugachev, after completing all the ceremonies associated with the oath of the inhabitants of the fortress, demanded to Grinev. Ataman invited Peter to serve him, to which the young nobleman responded with a firm refusal. Pugachev liked the honesty of Grinev, he promised the officer to let him go to Orenburg.
The next day, Grinev received a commission from Pugachev that he would pass on the words to the generals in Orenburg and set out on his journey. Just before leaving, the bold Savelich tried to get compensation from Pugachev for the barbaric goods that the Cossacks had plundered, but the “tsar” only threatened the old man. Despite the cheerful behavior of his uncles, Grinev left the fortress with gloomy thoughts, as the new commandant was appointed Shvabrin.
On arrival in Orenburg, Grinev informs the general everything that he knows about Pugachev’s gang, and then comes to the military council. Here, Grinev’s arguments in favor of the impetuous attack of the insurgents are perceived with obvious disapproval. One of the military recommends “bribery tactics”. Ultimately, most converge on the need to keep the defense of the city. A few days later the city was besieged by the rebels. During the sorties for the city walls Grinev received a letter from Masha through the sergeant. The girl asked to protect her from Shvabrin, who was determined to force her to marry him. Unable to persuade the general to give him a platoon of soldiers for the liberation of the fortress, Peter begins to seek another way out of the situation.
Desperate Grinev leaves Orenburg and heads to Belogorsky fortress. Already close to the fortress of Peter and Savelyich captured rebels who led them to Pugachev. Grinev admits that he is going to save his bride from Shvabrin. Ataman is happy to hear this news and is ready to personally marry young people and bless them. Peter persuades Pugachev to leave “theft” and hope for the mercy of the empress. In response, the ataman tells him a Kalmyk tale about an eagle and a crow, comparing himself with an eagle.
Pugachev arrives with Grinev in Belogorsk fortress and tells Shvabrin to show him an orphan. Shvabrin reluctantly agrees, then it appears that he kept Masha locked up in bread and water. Having threatened Shvabrin, Pugachev lets go of the girl and allows Peter to take her away, having forgiven at the same time the forced lie of Grinev as to who Masha really is.
On the way back, one of the small towns of Grinev was detained by guards who accepted him as a rebel. Fortunately for the youth, the major, who was supposed to understand the incident, was already known to Peter the hussar Zurin. Zurin advised not to return to Orenburg, but for greater security to stay with him, sending the bride to the family estate of the Grinevs. Conducting Masha along with Savelich, Peter in the hussar regiment made a campaign against the Pugachevites. In the course of the pursuit by the hussars of detachments of the rebels, Grinev reveals terrible pictures of devastation in the villages covered by the peasant war. After a while, Zurin received a secret decree about the arrest of Grinev and sent Peter to Kazan in an escort.
In Kazan, Grinev appeared before the investigative commission, in which he was distrustful of his story. The preconceived opinion about Grinev and his reluctance to mention his relationship with Masha Mironova led to the fact that the judges found Peter guilty of friendship with the leader of the rebels. As it turned out, the accusation was mainly based on the false testimony of Shvabrin. Grinev gets to prison, and after that he learns of the decision of the empress to send him to an eternal settlement in Siberia. Then Masha decides to go to Petersburg and ask for help from the empress herself. In St. Petersburg, the girl learns that the yard moved to Tsarskoe Selo and is sent there. In one of the Tsarskoe Selo gardens, Masha meets a lady with whom she enters into conversation and expounds the essence of her request to the Empress. The lady pretends that she agrees to convey the words of Masha to the Empress. Only then Mironova learns, that she spoke with Catherine II herself, when on the same day she appeared in the palace on the orders of the empress. The Empress granted Grinyov a pardon.
The author finishes the narrative, which was conducted on behalf of Grinev, with his own note. In a brief afterword, he reports that Grinev was released in 1774 by the decree of Catherine II and in January 1775 was present at the execution of Pugachev, who nodded to Peter, ascending to the block.
This unfinished draft chapter describes the circumstances of a visit to the family estate by Grinev. The regiment of Grinev was not far from the village where his parents and a bride lived. After asking the command, Peter crossed the Volga at night and made his way to his village. Here, a young officer learns that his parents are locked in a barn by Zemstvo Andrei. Grinev releases his family, but orders them to continue to hide in the shed. Savelich says that a detachment of Pugachevites led by Shvabrin takes a village. Grinev manages to repulse the first attack and lock himself in the barn. Shvabrin decides to set fire to the barn, which forces the father and son of the Grinevs to make a sortie. The Pugachevites take the Grinev prisoners, but at this time the hussars enter the village. As it turned out, they were brought to the village of Savelich, who secretly made his way past the rebels. Grinev, Having received a blessing from his parents for a marriage with Masha, he again returns to the army. After some time, he learned about the capture of Pugachev and received permission to return to his village. Grinev was happy, but some foreboding overshadowed this joy.