In the early winter morning from the porch of the Moscow hotel Chevalier, after spending a long time with friends after a long dinner, Dmitry Andreevich Olenin drives off on the Yamskaya troika to the Caucasian infantry regiment, where he is enlisted as a cadet.
From a young age, without parents, Olenin squandered half of his fortune by the time he was twenty-four, never finished a course anywhere and did not serve anywhere. He constantly lends itself to the hobbies of a young life, but just enough so as not to be tied up; instinctively runs all sorts of feelings and deeds that require serious effort. Not knowing with certainty what to direct the force of youth, which is clearly felt in itself, Olenin hopes to change his life with the departure to the Caucasus, so that there will be no more mistakes and repentance in it.
For a long time, the road Olenin then surrenders to memories of Moscow life, then draws in the imagination beckoning pictures of the future. The mountains, which open before him at the end of the path, surprise and delight Olenin with the infinity of majestic beauty. All Moscow memories disappear, and some kind of solemn voice says to him: “Now it’s begun.”
The village of Novomlinskaya stands three versts from the Terek, which separates Cossacks and Highlanders. Cossacks serve in campaigns and on cordons, “sit” in patrols on the bank of the Terek, hunt and fish. Women are in the household. This settled life is
Eroshka talks a lot about the Cossack life, and the simple philosophy embodied in these stories admires Olenin. They hunt together, Olenin admires the wild nature, listens to Eroshka’s instructions and reflections and feels that gradually more and more he wants to merge with the surrounding life. All day he walks through the woods, he returns hungry and tired, supper, drinks with Eroshka, sees from the porch of the mountain at sunset, listens to stories about hunting, about abrek, about carefree, remote living. Olenin is overwhelmed with a feeling of causeless love and finally gains a sense of happiness. “God made everything for the joy of man.” There is no sin in anything, “says Uncle Eroshka. And as if Olenin answered him in his thoughts: “We must all live, we must be happy… The need for happiness is invested in man.” Once on a hunt Olenin presents that he “
Olenin participates in one expedition and is represented in the officers. He shuns the battered ruts of the army life, consisting in the most part of the game of card games and binges in fortresses, and in stanitsas – in courting the Cossacks. Every morning, after admiring the mountains, on the Marjanka, Olenin goes hunting. In the evening he returns tired, hungry, but completely happy. Eroshka comes to him without fail, they talk for a long time and go to bed.
Olenin sees Maryanka every day and admires it just as much as the beauty of the mountains, the sky, without even thinking about other relationships. But the more he watches her, the stronger, unobtrusively, he falls in love.
Reindeer is imposing his friendship on Prince Beletsky, who is already acquainted with Moscow. Unlike Olenin, Beletsky leads the usual life of a rich Caucasian officer in the village. He also persuades Olenin to come to the party, where Mariyanka should be. Obeying the peculiar playful rules of such parties, Olenin and Mariyanka are left alone, and he kisses her. After that, “the wall that separated them before was destroyed.” Olenin spends more and more time in the room with the hosts, looking for any excuse to see Mariyanka. More and more thinking about his life and succumbing to the feeling rushing over him, Olenin is ready to marry Maryanka already.
At the same time preparations are continuing for the wedding of Lukashka and Maryanka. In such a strange state, when everything seems to go to this wedding, and Olenin gets stronger and the determination becomes clear, he makes a proposal to the girl. Mariyanka agrees, with the consent of the parents. The next morning, Olenin is going to go to the owners to ask for the hands of their daughter. He sees Cossacks on the street, among them Lukashka, who are going to catch abreks who moved to this side of the Terek. Obedient to the duty, Olenin goes with them.
Surrounded by Cossacks, the Chechens know that they can not leave, and are preparing for the last battle. During the fight, the brother of that Chechen, whom Lukashka had previously killed, shoots Lukashka from the pistol in the stomach. Lukashka is brought to the village, Olenin learns that he is dying.
When Olenin tries to talk to Maryanka, she rejects him with contempt and malice, and he suddenly realizes that he can never be loved by her. Olenin decided to go to the fortress, to the regiment. Unlike the thoughts he had in Moscow, he no longer repents and promises no better changes. Before leaving Novomlinskoy, he is silent, and in this silence there is a hidden, unknown earlier understanding of the gap between him and the surrounding life. Intuitively feels the inner essence of Olenin seeing him Eroshka. “After all, I love you, I’m sorry for you, you’re so bitter, all alone, all alone.” “You dislike someone!” he says goodbye. Having left Olenin, he looks around and sees how the old man and Mariyana talk about their affairs and no longer look at him.