Swiss province of the beginning of XX century. A young man named Josef Marty is an assistant in the technical bureau of engineer Karl Tobler. Before entering the new place, Josef had to live a few months without work, so he very much appreciates his current position and tries to be worthy of the hopes placed on him by the master. In the house of Tobler, a beautiful mansion in which the office is located, Josef likes everything: his cozy room in the turret, a beautiful garden with a gazebo, the way he is fed, and the fine cigars with which he is treated by a patron.
The owner of the house, the engineer Tobler, gives the impression of a man of strictness, sometimes even sharp, self-confident, yet subject to the tides of good nature and sincerely caring about his charges. He has a wife, a tall, slender woman with a slightly mocking and indifferent look, and four children-two boys, Walter and Eddie, and two girls, Dora and Sylvie. Previously, Mr. Tobler worked as an engineer at the plant, he lived with his family for a modest salary. Having received the inheritance, he decided to leave his post, acquire a house and open his own inventive bureau. That’s why he settled with the family in Barensville some time ago.
In the arsenal, the engineer has several inventions for which he is looking for sponsors who can support his undertakings. Watches with wings for advertisements that can be placed in places of special congestion of people, for example in a tram, are already ready. In addition to watch-advertising in the arsenal of the engineer there are projects of the machine that issues ammunition, chairs for the sick and underground drill. Almost every day, Mr. Tobler spends in traveling and negotiations, searching for a customer for his technical projects.
From the first week of his stay with the Tobler, Josef has to show not only his engineering skills, but also to fulfill the duties of the clerk and to answer to the holders of bills demanding payment of arrears, to wait a little longer. In his spare time, Joseph swims in the lake, walks through the forest, drinks coffee with Mrs. Tobler in the garden on the veranda.
On the first Sunday, guests come to the mansion – it’s Josef’s predecessor, Virzich, and his mother. Virzich fell in love with the Toilers for their devotion and zeal. There was, however, his one drawback, which negated all his positive qualities: from time to time he went into drinking-bouts, burst out curses, shouted insults, but, having become sober, returned with a repentant look. Mr. Tobler, after reading Virzich’s notation, forgave him. But when this poor fellow turned in his insults all the limits of what was allowed, the engineer finally dismissed him and invited a new assistant. Now Virzich again begs to take him back. This time the engineer really can not do this, and Virzikha, along with his old mother, has to leave the mansion with nothing.
On working days, Josef writes texts of announcements that the engineer is looking for contact with the owners of free capital to finance their patents, sends them to large firms, helps Ms. Tobler around the house, watering the garden. Physical work attracts Josef, perhaps even more mental, although in the latter he seeks to prove his worth. The Tobler family often communicates with neighbors, accepts guests, and Joseph is involved in all their ventures: boat rides, maps, walks in Barensville, and everywhere has the opportunity to see how potent the villagers are with their owners.
On August 1, Tobler arranges a celebration in his mansion on the occasion of the official formation of Switzerland in 1291. Meanwhile, bills requiring repayment are increasingly coming to the office. Josef sees his task in protecting the patron of negative emotions, and he himself often responds to such messages with a request to wait. Once, in the office in the... absence of Tobler comes Johannes Fisher, who responded to the announcement for the “owners of capital.” The helper can not sufficiently display his courtesy and ingenuity to detain Fisher and his wife before the return of the patron, which leads Tobler into a rage. Fisher does not appear like that anymore, but the engineer does not lose hope of moving his business from a dead center.
On one of the Sundays, the Tobblers go for a walk, and Sylvie is left at home. As far as a mother loves her second daughter, Dora, she also neglects Sylvie. The girl is always in some way to blame, her moods are taken out of her mother, she can not look at her daughter without annoyance, because Sylvie is ugly and not pleasing to the eye. She almost completely gave the child to the care of Pauline’s maid, who treats Sylvie as if she were a slave, forcing her to remove dishes from the table and do other things that, strictly speaking, she herself would have to perform. Every night from Sylvie’s room shouts are heard, because Paulina, coming to wake the girl in order to put her on the pot, and discovering that the baby is already wet, beats her. Josef repeatedly tries to tell Ms. Tobler of the inadmissibility of such treatment with the child,
She also has other sorrows: a former servant, dismissed because of her connection with Virzich, spreads rumors that Ms. Tobler herself had been intriguing with Virzikh. Mrs. Tobler writes an angry letter from the mother of the villain and, as it were, tosses his predecessor to Josef in passing. The assistant is offended and angrily defends his dignity. Ms. Tobler considers it her duty to complain to Josef about her husband. However, he is so immersed in his gloomy thoughts that he almost does not react to her words. Josef allows himself to criticize even the engineer, which is extremely amazing. For all its boldness, Josef loves and even fears Tobler, because of the financial difficulties that do not pay him a salary. Unpaid bills do not prevent, however, Tobler to erect near his mansion an underground grotto for rest,
On one of the Sundays, Josef goes to the capital to have fun. Gloriously spending the evening in one of the pubs, he goes outside and sees Virzikha sitting on a frosty night on a bench in the open air. He takes him to the inn, encourages and makes several letters to employers. Then he offers Virzikha to walk from the office to the office and look for places. In one of them, Virzikha smiles with happiness and finds a job.
All the Barentsville acquaintances gradually turn away from the Tobler. The engineer is forced to send his wife, who has not yet fully recovered from the illness, to her mother to ask for the part of the inheritance due to him. Ms. Tobler manages to get only four thousand francs. This money is enough only to shut up the mouths of the most vocal creditors.
Josef gets a favorable moment to talk with Mrs. Tobler about Sylvie. She frankly confesses that she does not like her daughter, but she understands that she is not right, and promises to treat her with softer. Christmas this year is held in the mansion is very sad. Ms. Tobler understands that the family will soon have to sell the house, move to the city, rent a cheap apartment, and her husband – to look for work.
Josef meets in the village of Virzikha, again fired because of drunkenness and suffering from work and money. He leads Virzikha into the mansion, where Mrs. Tobler resolves the miserable night. The next morning, Tobler’s anger knows no bounds. He offends Josef. He asks to pay him a salary. Tobler orders Josef to get out, then his fury gives way to complaints. Joseph collects things and, together with Virzich, leaves the Tobler…