Vassa Borisovna Zheleznova, 42, the owner of the shipping company, a very wealthy and influential person, lives in her own house with her husband, Sergey Petrovich Zheleznov, 60, a former captain and brother, Prokhor Borisovich Khrapov, careless, drinking a man who collects all kinds of locks. In the house also live Natalia and Lyudmila – the daughter of Vassy and Sergei Petrovich; Anna Onoshenkova is a young secretary and confidant of Vassy and at the same time a domestic spy; Lisa and then Paul – maids. In the house there is always a sailor Pyaterkin, who plays the role of a jester and secretly befriends Liza in the hope of marrying her and getting rich; Guriy Krotkikh – managing director of the shipping company; Melnikov is a member of the district court and his son Eugene.
From abroad comes Rachelle – the wife of Vassa Fyodor’s son, who is dying far from his homeland. Rachelle is a socialist-revolutionary, wanted by the police. She wants to take her little son Kolya, whom Vassa hides in the village and does not want to give back to his daughter-in-law, since he hopes to make him an heir to the fortune and a continuer of his business. Vassa threatens to extradite Rachelle to the gendarmes, if she insists on the return of her son.
The shaky well-being of Vassy’s home rests on a crime. She is poisoning her husband Sergei Petrovich, when he is involved in seduction of a young child and he faces penal servitude. But first she suggests that he commit suicide, and only when he refuses, Vassa, saves the honor of unmarried daughters, pours a powder on her husband. Thus, the family avoids the disgrace of the court. This is not the end of the series of crimes. The maid Lisa bore from Vassa’s brother and, in the end, hanged herself in the bathhouse Vassa is ready to do anything to save her house and her business. She is madly in love with her failed children, who were the victim of their father’s unbridled life and his cruel treatment of their mother. Fedor – not a tenant in this world. Lyudmila, when she was a child, having seen enough of the fun of her father with slutty girls, grew weak-minded. Natalia gradually dries with her uncle and does not like a mother, which nevertheless is very similar to the cool nature. The last hope is a grandson, but he is still too small.
Between Rashel and Vassa there is some similarity, which they both feel. These are integral, fanatical characters – “masters of life”;
Only Vassa – all in the past, and for Rashelia – the future. They are irreconcilable enemies, but they respect each other. Nevertheless, Vassa orders the secretary to bring the gendarmes to Rachelle, but does it solely for the sake of the grandson, the ending of the play is unexpected. Vassa suddenly dies. In this, one feels the punishment from above for the ridiculous, sudden death of a husband and the mockery of fate: part of Vassy’s money is stolen by Onoshenkov, and the rest of the wealth will be disposed of by a dissolute brother who will undoubtedly squander everything. Only the feeble-minded Ludmila mourns her mother. The rest of her death does not touch at all.