Andrei Vasilyevich Kovrin, a master, works a lot, sleeps a little, smokes and, at last, is frustrated with his nerves. The doctor advises him to spend the summer in the village. He goes to Pesotsky – Yegor Semenovich, his former guardian and tutor, and his daughter Tanya to the village of Borisovka. Pesotsky is the famous Russian gardener. Kovrin from childhood was struck by the fantasy of Yegor Semyonovich – in the garden there are the most unusual plants – from black tulips to arches, monograms and candelabra, in the form of which garden trees grow. Sam Pesotsky and Tanya work a lot in the garden; this is the only meaning of the life of Yegor Semyonovich, he is very worried that after his death no one will continue his work. Tanya – a sensitive girl and quite nervous, verbose and sincerely sympathetic to Kovrin. She often quarrels with her father over trifles,
In Borisovka, Kovrin continues the same messy life as in the city. He sleeps a little, reads and writes a lot (he studies psychology and philosophy), learns the Italian language, drinks wine, smokes, communicates with the rather boring acquaintances of Pesotsky – neighbor girls playing with Tanya on the piano, and a young man playing the violin. Once Kovrin hears how Tanya, his girlfriend and a young man learn the serenade of Brag. The serenade’s plot is simple: “The girl, who was sick with imagination, heard some mysterious sounds in the garden at night, so beautiful that she had to recognize them as a harmony of the sacred, which we mortals do not understand and therefore fly back to heaven.” The carpet is boring; he tells Tanya the legend of a black monk, who himself does not remember where he heard it.
A thousand years ago, dressed in a black monk walking through the desert. A few miles from that place, the fishermen saw a mirage – a black monk walking along the surface of the water. The mirage was reflected so many times that it finally went beyond the Galaxy. The prediction says that in a thousand years, that is, during the lifetime of Kovrin and Tanya, this mirage will again fall into the earth’s atmosphere and seem to people. Tanya does not like the legend. Kovrin leaves in the field, admires the beauty of nature, it seems to him that the world is hiding and waiting for Kovrin to understand him. Suddenly a tornado appears in the distance, Kovrin steps aside. On closer inspection, it turns out that this is a giant black monk. He turns to Kovrin and smiles at him.
Kovrin returns to the house. Apparently, no one but him noticed a miraculous phenomenon, and Kovrin decides not to tell anyone, because everyone will find him crazy.
When the guests leave, Tanya brings Kovrin to read his father’s articles on gardening. Yegor Semyonovich visits Kovrin himself, complains that after his death the garden will be gone, Tanya will marry a scoundrel, children will go, and there will be nobody to attend to the garden. Pesotsky expressly states that the only person whom he would happily entrust to his daughter is Kovrin. After Yegor Semenovich’s departure, Kovrin decided to read the articles. He is amazed by the aggressive tone of the controversy with other gardeners.
Next morning, father and daughter quarrel, Tanya locks and does not let anyone in. Kovrin decides to reconcile them, goes to Tanya, comforts her, strokes his head and suddenly realizes that he can never love a woman who is quite healthy mentally, “but pale, weak, unhappy Tanya” he likes.
On the same day, Kovrin again sees the ghost of a black monk – in broad daylight, in the Pesotsky garden.
The black monk says that Kovrin is one of the few chosen by God people who serve the eternal truth and bear the divine, heavenly seal. For such people there is eternal life; by their labor they bring eternal life to the rest of the people. Kovrin is pleased to hear this, but he realizes that before him – a hallucination,... and directly asks the monk if he is mentally ill. He answers that there is nothing terrible in the mental illness – this deviation only in the understanding of ordinary people, ie, “herd”. Most of the geniuses suffered from this or that mental illness. The monk advises Kovrin: “If you want to be healthy and normal, go to the herd.”
When the mirage disappears, it becomes easy and fun for Kovrin, he is so happy that, seeing Tanya, enthusiastically makes her an offer.
Preparations begin for the wedding. Tanya is nervous; Yegor Semyonovich is angry with the workers. Do not hesitate: fruits and flowers are being prepared for shipment to the city, there is a lively correspondence with contractors, a dowry is sewed. Kovrin does not notice anything; he completely leaves for work. He adores Tanya, constantly tells her about love. The monk is to him several times a week; once it occurs in the presence of Pesotsky. Kovrin is going to talk to them on topics that might interest the monk, and Pesotsky do not suspect that Kovrin communicates not with them, but with his hallucination.
The wedding is celebrated widely and cheerfully, then the young people move to the city, where Tanya often has a headache, especially at night.
One night the monk is Kovrin in the bedroom. Thinking that Tanya is sleeping, Kovrin talks with the monk about fame, fame and his attitude towards them. He worries that he is too happy, but the monk explains to him that “the higher a person is in his mental and moral development, the freer he is, the greater the pleasure gives him life.” Tanya wakes up and is horrified that her husband is sitting and talking with an empty chair. She rushes to the next room to her father, who is visiting them. Kovrin himself is a little scared. The family decides to seek help from a doctor. Kovrin begins to be treated.
In the summer, the Kovrinas again leave for the village. Kovrin drinks a lot of milk, works only for two hours a day, does not use tobacco and alcohol, and soon the black monk ceases to appear to him. But Kovrin becomes more and more irritable; his relationship with his father-in-law is deteriorating. He believes that Yegor Semyonovich is to blame for the fact that he, Kovrin, has become mediocre; it would be easier for him to live in a world of hallucinations and be happy. Tanya begs her husband to reconcile with Pesotsky, says that everything is suffering from the bad character of Kovrin, and first of all – she. In the end, Kovrin states that Yegor Semyonovich himself asked him to marry Tanya. Pesotsky is beside himself with indignation; Tanya faints.
Kovrin and Tanya diverge. He lives with another woman (Varvara Nikolaevna), gets a chair, gets sick (he often has a sore throat, which prevents him from starting to read the course). Tanya returns to Yegor Semyonovich.
Varvara Nikolayevna decides to take out Kovrin for treatment in the Crimea. There he receives a letter from Tanya, in which she informs him that Yegor Semyonovich died, accuses the former husband of this and curses him.
To calm down, Kovrin tries to sit down for work, but at the bottom someone plays the violin and prevents him. Going out onto the balcony, he hears the words of Brag’s serenade. It reminds him of how once he heard it in the performance of Tanya and her friends. He is again a black monk, who asks why Kovrin did not believe that he is a genius. Answer him Kovrin can not: the blood comes from his throat. Kovrin weakens, tries to call Varvara Nikolaevna, but only pronounces Tanya’s name. “He called Tanya, called a large garden with luxurious flowers, sprinkled with dew, he called a park, pine trees with shaggy roots, a rye field, his wonderful science, his youth, courage, joy, called life, which was so beautiful.” Dying, he hears the whisper of a monk, who assures him that a weak body can no longer be a shell for genius.