The young man-narrator, whom “fate threw for six months in a remote village Perebrod Volyn province, on the outskirts of Polissya,” intolerably misses. His only entertainment is hunting with the servant Yarmola and trying to teach him the last reading and writing. One day, during a terrible blizzard, the hero learns from the usually inconsiderate Yarmola that about ten versts from his house the real witch Manuilikha lives, who knows where from whence she appeared in the village, and then was evicted beyond its limits for her sorcerous deeds.
The opportunity to get acquainted with it appears quickly: as soon as it becomes warmer, the hero goes hunting and, straying in the woods, stumbles upon the hut. Assuming that a local forester lives here, he walks inside and discovers there the old woman “with all the features of a woman-yaga as depicted by a folk epic”. Manuilikha meets the hero unfriendly, but noticeably brightens when he takes out a silver quarter and asks the old woman to tell fortunes. In the midst of the fortune telling, the witch’s granddaughter, Olesya, a dark-haired beauty of “twenty-twenty-five years old” comes into the house. She treats the storyteller affably and shows him the way home.
All the early spring days the image of Olesya does not leave the thought of the narrator.
I myself did not suspect how thin, strong, invisible threads my heart was tied to this charming, incomprehensible girl for me.
When the forest roads dry up, the narrator goes to the witch’s hut. As well as the first time, the granddaughter meets the visitor where is more affable than Manuilikha. And when the guest asks Olesya to give him credit, she confesses that she once already laid out cards on him and guessed that this year he falls out “a lot of love from a club with a dark lady with dark hair.” And those “who will love you, you will bring much grief”. Another map told Olesya that the hero of this lady’s club will bring shame, which is worse than death.
While escorting the narrator, Olesya will try to prove to him that she and her grandmother have a real gift of witchcraft, and conducts several experiments on him. – He heals a deep cut and forces him to stumble after her. Then the hero tries to find out where Manuilich came from in Polissya, to which Olesya responds evasively, that the grandmother does not like to talk about it. Then the narrator first appears – his name is Ivan Timofeevich.
From this day on, the hero becomes a frequent visitor in the hut. Olesya is always glad to see him, although she meets with restraint. But the old woman is not particularly pleased, but Ivan manages to coax her with gifts, helps and Olesya’s intercession.
Ivan is fascinated not only by the beauty of Olesya. He is attracted to her original mind. Between them flares up a lot of controversy, when Ivan tries to scientifically justify Olesino’s “black art”. Despite disagreements, deep affection arises between them. In the meantime, Ivan’s relations with Yarmola, which does not approve of his acquaintance with the witch, are deteriorating. Do not like the servant and the fact that both witches are afraid of the church.
Once, when Ivan once again comes to the hut, he finds the sorceress and her granddaughter upset: the local officer ordered them to leave the house at twenty-four hours and threatened to let them through the stages in case of disobedience. The hero is called to... help, and the old woman does not refuse the offer, despite Olesino’s displeasure. Ivan begs the sergeant not to expel women from the house, which he objects and calls the old woman and her granddaughter “the plague of the places here.” Having appeased the sergeant with treats and expensive gifts, Ivan still achieves his goal. The sergeant promises to leave Manuilikha and Olesya alone in peace.
From this time Olesya begins to avoid Ivan and any explanations with him.
Separation for love is the same as the wind for fire: it extinguishes little love, but inflates the big one even more.
Then Ivan suddenly and seriously ill – six days of his “beat terrible Polesie fever.” And only after recovery he manages to explain himself to Olesya. The girl avoided meeting with Ivan just because she wanted to escape from fate. Realizing that this is impossible, she admits to him in love. Ivan responds to her in return, but Olesya can not forget about her fortune telling. However, in spite of Ivan’s misgivings and the malice of Manuilikha, their love blossoms.
In the meantime, Ivan’s duties in Perebrod are coming to an end, and more and more often he comes to the idea of marrying Oles and taking her with him. Convincing himself of the correctness of this decision, he makes an offer to his beloved. But Olesya refuses – she does not want to spoil the life of a young, educated master. The girl even offers Ivan just to go after him, without any marriage.
Ivan has a suspicion that her refusal is connected with the fear of the church, to which Olesya says that for the sake of love for him, she is ready to overcome this superstition. She appoints him a meeting in the church the next day, on the feast of the Holy Trinity, and Ivan covers a terrible premonition.
The vague attraction of the heart is never mistaken in its rapid secret premonitions.
The next day Ivan is delayed on official business and does not have time to get to church in time. Returning home, he finds a local clerk who tells him about today’s “fun” – village girls caught in the square witch, who was asked to shake, wanted to smear tar, but he managed to escape. Indeed, Olesya came to church, defended the mass, after which she was attacked by village women. Miraculously breaking out, Olesya threatened them that they would still remember her and pay a lot of attention.
Ivan learns all these details later. In the meantime, he rushes into the woods, and finds in the hut a battered Olesya without memory, seized with fever, and cursing him Manuilich. Olesya comes to himself and explains to Ivan that she and her grandmother can no longer stay here, so she and Ivan will have to part. At parting, Olesya admits that she would like to have a child from Ivan and regrets that he is not.
This very night a strong hail falls on Perebrod. In the morning Yarmola awakens Ivan and advises him to get out of the village – a hailstorm that killed nearly half the village, according to the village, was sent by sorceresses out of vengeance, and the embittered people are already beginning to “scream unkind” about Ivan. Wishing to warn Olesya about the disaster that threatens her, the hero rushes into the hut, where he finds only traces of a hurried flight and bright red beads, which remained the only memory of Oles and her gentle, generous love.