English engineer William Perry, generously rewarded by the Russian Tsar Peter for diligence in arranging locks on the Voronezh River, with a letter calling his brother Bertrand to Russia for the execution of a new tsar’s plan – the creation of a continuous navigable passage between Don and Oko. There are big sluice and channel works, for the projecting of which, and promised William to the king to call his brother, because “he himself was tired, and the heart dried up and the mind goes dead.”
In the spring of 1709, Bertrand Perry sailed to St. Petersburg. He is in his thirty-fourth year, but his sullen, sorrowful face and gray whiskey make him forty-five. In the port of Bertrand meet the Ambassador of the Russian Tsar and the Consul of the English King. Resting after a long journey in the allotted rest near the marine hay store, under the alarming howl of the storm outside the window, Bertrand remembers his native New Castle and his twenty-year-old bride, Mary. Before parting, Mary told Bertrand that she needed a husband “like a stranger Iskander, like a rushing Tamerlane or indomitable Atilla.” To be worthy of such a wife, Bertrand came to this harsh land. But can Mary wait for him for many years? With these thoughts Bertrand falls asleep in a stiff rest.
A week Bertrand gets acquainted with the survey documents compiled by knowledgeable people: the French engineer Truzson and the Polish technician Tsitskevsky. On the basis of these studies, he worked for half a year on the project and work plans, fascinated by Peter’s great plan. In July, the documents were reported to the tsar, who approves them and gives Bertran an award of one thousand five hundred silver... rubles and establishes a salary henceforth for a thousand rubles each month. In addition, Bertrand is given the rights of a general with subordination only to the tsar and the commander-in-chief, and the governors and voivods are given the decree to render complete assistance to the chief engineer, whatever he demands. After giving Bertrand all the rights, Tsar Peter reminds that he is able not only to thank, but also to punish the opponents of the tsar’s will.
Bertrand, along with five German engineers and ten scribes, travels to the city of Epifan, to the very middle of future work. Departure marred by a letter from Newcastle. Mary reproaches him for cruelty – for the sake of gold he swam to the far land and ruined her love. And she preferred another – Thomas, and already the child is worried about her heart. Unable to remember the mind, Bertrand Perry reads the letter three times in succession and clenches his pipe with teeth so that blood flows from the gums. “It’s over, friends… The blood is over, and the gums are over. Let’s go to Epifan!” – mastering himself, he says fellow travelers.
They travel for a long time along the Ambassadorial road – through Moscow, through the booming spaces with a rich and restrained nature, and the head wind blows the grief from Bertrand’s chest. Work begins immediately, only in it Bertrand emanates the energy of his soul – and the handy call him a convict commander. In autumn he comes to Epifan Peter and remains dissatisfied with the fact that the work is slow. Indeed, no matter how hardened Perry, the peasants sheltered from duty, and the local evil bosses made fortunes and set-offs from the treasury.