A huge dirty school room. Classes are over, and bursaks play games.
Most recently, the “period of violent education” ended, when everyone, regardless of age, had to undergo a full course of science. Now the “law of overgrown age” began to operate: after reaching a certain age, a bursak is expelled from school, and he can become a scribe, a sexton, a novice. Many can not find their place. There are rumors that such people will be taken into the soldiers.
There are more than 100 people in the class. Among them are twelve-year-olds and adults. They play “pebbles,” “hats,” “lean,” “fast.” All games are necessarily connected with causing each other pain: tweaks, clicks, strokes and so on.
Nobody wants to play with Semenov, a sixteen-year-old boy, the son of a parish priest. Everyone knows that Semenov is a fiscal. In the classroom it gets dark. Bursaks are entertained singing, they arrange noisy games in “little pile”, but suddenly everything stops. In the dark you can hear: someone is being flogged. This comrades punish Semyonov’s fiscal. Enraged Semenov runs to complain.
Classes begin. Someone is sleeping, someone is talking… The main method of bursak studies is a meaningless “dolbnia”, cramming. Therefore, nobody wants to study.
In the classroom there are inspector and Semenov, complaining about his abusers. One of them, on the orders of the inspector, is whipped and promised to carve every tenth student the next day. Bursaks decide to take revenge on Semenov. At night they put in his nose a “PFIMFU”, that is, a cone with burning cotton. Semenov gets to the hospital, and he does not know what happened to him. Many people are tortured by order of their superiors, and many are in vain.
Early morning. Bursatskaya bedroom. Students are awakened and led to the bath. They walk through the city with a noise, quarreling with all passers-by. After the bath they scatter around the city in search of what is bad. Especially distinguished in this case are the bursaks nicknamed Aksyuta and Satan. Having stolen the stolen goods, the bursaks are in good spirits and tell stories about the former times of the bursa in the class to each other: about the tricks of the bursaks, about how they used to sabotage…
Classes begin. Teacher Ivan Mikhailovich Lobov first cuts Aksyutu, who did not learn the lesson, then asks the others, distributing the punishment. During the lesson he has breakfast. Lobov never explains the lesson. The next lesson – Latin – is led by the teacher Dolbezhin. He also sows all in a row, but his students like: Dol-bezhin is honest, he does not take bribes and does not favor fiscals. The third teacher, nicknamed Batka, is especially fierce in a drunken state: along with flogging, he applies other, more sophisticated physical punishments.
Aksyutka is hungry: Lobov ordered him to leave without dinner, until he switched to “Kamchatka”. Aksyutka then studies fine and sits at the first desk, otherwise she does not study at all. Lobov has been bored with such changes: he prefers that Aksyutka never learns.
In the courtyard of the school, two women – an old woman and a thirty-year old – wait for the director and rush at his feet. It turns out that this “fixed bride” with his mother, who came “for the grooms.” The point is that after the death of a clergyman, his place is “fixed” to the family, that is, passes to the one who agrees to marry his daughter. Diachiche and his daughter have to go to the seminary to find a “breadwinner”.
A new type of teacher appears in the seminary.... Among them, Pyotr Fedorovich Krasnov. He, in comparison with others, a kind and delicate person, opposes too cruel punishments, but he abuses moral punishment, mocking ignorant students before the whole class.
Aksyutke, along with another disciple, nicknamed Satan, manages to steal bread from the bursak hamper of the chain. Aksyutka takes the Chain out of himself, he chases the arrogant bursak, and Satan steals bread in the meantime.
The attendant calls the bridegrooms to watch the bride. The authorities recognize Vasendu, Asinus, Aksyutka as fit for grooms. The first two – the inhabitants of the “Kamchatka”, engaged only in the church sciences. Vasenda is a practical man, thorough, Azinus is stupid, careless. Bursaks go to the bride. Vasende does not like the bride and the place, Azinus decides to marry, although the bride is much older than him. Aksyutka simply called himself the bridegroom to eat at the bride’s and pull something together.
And in the bursa they start a new game – a parody of a wedding…
Carp from early childhood dreamed of a bursa, because his older brothers were bursaks and very much in front of him puffed up. When Carp-beginner is brought to the seminary, he rejoices. But at once immediately ridicule, various mockeries from the side of comrades. On the first day, he is beheaded. Carp enters the seminary choir. Instead of singing, he only tries to open his mouth. Comrades “name” him Karasem, the ceremony of “censure” is very offensive, Carp fights with the offenders, and Lobov, who caught the scene of the fight, orders Caras to carve. This cruel flogging produces a turning point in the soul of Carp – there is a terrible hatred for the bursa, dreams of revenge.
Apprentice nicknamed Silych, the first hero of the class, declares that he will patronize Caraco, so that no one dares to offend him. Under this protection, Caraco becomes easier to live. He himself tries to protect the “oppressed”, especially the bursak fools. Bursat science decisively denies Caracas, does not want to study.
Vsevolod Vasilievich Razumnikov, teacher of church singing, the law of God and sacred history, is a rather progressive pedagogue: he introduces a system of mutual learning. But Carp can not comprehend church singing, and Razumnikov punishes him: he does not let go home on Sundays. Karasem is in danger of being not allowed to go home for Easter.
The teacher of arithmetic, Pavel Alekseevich Livanov comes. He is helpless in a drunken state, and the bursaks mock him.
On Saturday Karp gets up all sorts of disgraces with vexation that he is not allowed to go home. In the bursa the Sunday day passes, and Carp begins to think about fleeing. He heard that some of the junior “runners” were caught, but they forgave, others were carved, but still they did not notice that the runaways are “escaping” somewhere in the woods yard. But on the same day they brought the caught “runner” Menshinsky. He is flogged to death, and then taken to the hospital on a mat. Carp leaves thoughts of flight. He decides to “save himself” from church singing in the hospital. He manages to get sick, a terrible lesson goes on without him, and at Easter Carp is sent home…
A new caretaker appears in the bursa. The former, by the nickname Stargazer, was a kind person and, not enduring the horrors of the bursa, preferred to retire in his apartment, which gave him a big mystery in the eyes of the bursakov. In general, by this time in the seminary, much has changed: the punishment has softened, the older bursaks have become fewer…