The novel is based on the memoirs of Pyotr Andreevich Grinev, a fifty-year-old nobleman, written by him during the reign of Emperor Alexander and dedicated to the “Pugachev”, in which the seventeen-year-old officer Petr Grinev took an involuntary part in the “strange cohesion of circumstances.”
Pyotr Andreevich recalls with mild irony his childhood, his childhood as a nobleman. His father, Andrei Petrovich Grinev in his youth, “served under Count Minichie and retired as prime minister in 17 … Since that time he lived in his Simbirsk village, where he married the maid Avdotya Vasilyevna Yu, the daughter of a poor nobleman there” . The Grinev family had nine children, but all the brothers and sisters of Petrusha “died in infancy.”
Up to sixteen, Grinev lives “inexpensively, driving pigeons and playing leapfrog with yard boys.” In the seventeenth year, the father decides to send his son to the service, but not to St. Petersburg, but to the army “to smell the gunpowder” and “pull the strap”. He sends him to Orenburg, instructing him to
Approaching Orenburg, Grinev and Savelich fell into a snowstorm. An accidental person, who met on the road, takes out a tent, lost in a blizzard, to the manor. While the tent was “quietly moving” to housing, Peter Andreevich had a terrible dream, in which Grinev, a fifty, sees something prophetic, linking it with the “strange circumstances” of his later life. A man with a black beard lies in the bed of Father Grinev, and my mother, calling him Andrei Petrovich and a “planted father,” wants Petrush to “kiss his pen” and ask for a blessing. A man waves an ax, the room is filled with dead bodies; Grinev stumbles over them, slips in bloody puddles, but his “terrible guy” “gently cries”, saying: “Do not be afraid, come under my blessing.”
In gratitude for his salvation, Grinev gives the “leader” dressed too easily, his hare sheepskin coat and presents a glass of wine, for which he thanks with a low bow: “Thank you, your honor!” God bless you for your virtue. ” The appearance of the “leader” seemed to Grinev to be “remarkable”: “He was about forty years old, of medium height, lean and broad-shouldered.” His black beard showed a squint, his large large eyes were running, his face rather pleasant but picaresque. “
Belogorskaya fortress, where Orenburg sent to serve Grinev, meets the youth not by formidable bastions, towers and ramparts, but turns out to be a village surrounded by a wooden fence. Instead of a brave garrison – invalids who do not know where the left, and where the right side, instead of the deadly artillery – an old cannon, clogged with debris.
Commandant of the fortress Ivan Kuzmich Mironov – an officer “from soldiers’ children,” an uneducated man, but honest and kind. His wife, Vasilisa Yegorovna, completely manages them and looks at the affairs of the service as their economic. Soon Grinev becomes for the Mironovs “native”, and he himself “imperceptibly attached himself to a good family.” In the daughter of Mironov, Masha Grinev “found a sensible and sensitive girl.”
The service does not bother Grinev, he was interested in reading books, practicing translations and composing poetry. At first he approaches the lieutenant Shvabrin, the only person in the fortress, close to Grinev by education, age and occupation. But soon they quarrel – Shvabrin with a mock criticized the love song, written by Grinev, and also allowed himself dirty hints about “the nature and custom” of Masha Mironova, which this song was dedicated to. Later, in conversation with Masha, Grinev will find out the reasons for the stubborn maliciousness with which Shvabrin pursued her: the lieutenant wooed her, but was refused. “I do not like Alexei Ivanovich, he is very disgusting to me,” Masha Grinev admits. The quarrel is resolved by a duel and the wounding of Grinev.
Masha takes care of the wounded Grinev. Young people confess to each other “in a heartfelt inclination,” and Grinev writes a letter to the father, “asking for a parental blessing.” But Masha is a non-dowry. In Mironov’s “only one soul, one girl Palashka,” while the Grinevs have three hundred souls of peasants. Father forbids Grinev to marry and promises to transfer him from the Belogorsky fortress “somewhere far away”, so that the “foolishness” will pass.
After this letter for Grinev, life became unbearable, he falls into a gloomy reverie, seeking solitude. “I was afraid either to go crazy, or to get into debauchery.” And only “unexpected incidents,” writes Grinev, “who had an important influence on my whole life, suddenly gave my soul a strong and good shock.”
In early October 1773, the commandant of the fortress received a secret message about the Don Cossack Emelian Pugachev, who, posing as the “late Emperor Peter III”, “assembled a villainous gang, angered the village of Yaik and already took and ruined several fortresses.” The commandant was asked to “take appropriate measures to repel the aforementioned villain and impostor”.
Soon everyone was talking about Pugachev. In the fortress, a Bashkir with “outrageous sheets” was seized. But he could not be interrogated – the Bashkir had a tongue torn out. From day to day, residents of the Belogorsky Fortress are waiting for Pugachev’s attack,
The rebels appear unexpectedly – the Mironovs did not even have time to send Masha to Orenburg. At the first attack the fortress was taken. Residents greet the Pugachevites with bread and salt. Prisoners, among whom was Grinev, lead to the square to swear allegiance to Pugachev. The first on the gallows is killed by the commandant who refused to swear an “evildoer and impostor”. Vasilisa Yegorovna falls dead under the blow of the saber. Death on the gallows awaits and Grinev, but Pugachev has mercy on him. A little later from Savelich, Grinev learns “the reason for mercy” – the ataman of the robbers turned out to be that tramp who received from him, Grinev, a sheepskin coat.
In the evening Grinev was invited to the “Great Sovereign”. “I have pardoned you for your virtue,” says Pugachev to Grinev. “Do you promise to serve me with zeal?” But Grinev is a “natural nobleman” and “swore allegiance to the Tsar Empress”. He can not even promise Pugachev not to serve against him. “My head is in your power,” he says to Pugachev, “let me go – thank you, you’ll be executed – God is your judge.”
Sincerity of Grinev amazes Pugachev, and he lets the officer “on all four sides.” Grinev decides to go to Orenburg for help – after all, in the fortress in a strong fever left Masha, which the priest gave out for his niece. He is especially worried that Shvabrin was appointed commandant of the fortress, who swore allegiance to Pugachev.
But in Orenburg, Grinev was denied assistance, and a few days later, the rebel forces encircle the city. Long days of siege stretched. Soon a case in Grinev’s hands is a letter from Masha, from which he learns that Shvabrin forces her to marry him, threatening otherwise to extradite her to the Pugachevites. Again Grinev appeals for help to the military commandant, and again receives a refusal.
Grinev and Savelich go to the Belogorsky fortress, but they are captured by the rebels near the Berdskaya settlement. And again Providence reduces Grinev and Pugachev, giving the officer an opportunity to fulfill his intention: having learned from Grinev the essence of the matter on which he is going to Belogorsky fortress, Pugachev himself decides to release the orphan and punish the offender.
On the way to the fortress between Pugachev and Grinev there is a confidential conversation. Pugachev clearly aware of his doom, expecting betrayal primarily from his comrades, he knows that he does not expect “the grace of the sovereign” either. For Pugachev, as for an eagle from a Kalmyk fairy tale, which he tells Grinev with “wild inspiration,” it’s better to get drunk with blood than three hundred years, and then what God will give! “. Grinev makes a different moral conclusion from the tale, which surprises Pugachev: “To live by murder and robbery means for me to peck at the dead.”
In the Belogorsky fortress Grinev with the help of Pugachev frees Masha. And although the frenzied Shvabrin reveals deception before Pugachev, he is full of generosity: “To execute, so to execute, to complain, so to give: this is my custom.” Grinev and Pugachev parted “friendly.”
Masha as a bride sends Grinev to his parents, and he himself remains in the army for “honor’s sake”. The war “with the robbers and savages” is “boring and petty”. Observations of Grinev are filled with bitterness: “Do not bring God to see the Russian rebellion, senseless and merciless.”
The end of the military campaign coincides with the arrest of Grinev. Presenting himself before the court, he is calm in his confidence that he can justify himself, but he is stipulated by Shvabrin, exposing Grinev as a spy detached from Pugachev to Orenburg. Grinev is condemned, he is in for a shame, a reference to Siberia for an eternal settlement.
From the shame and links Grinev saves Masha, who goes to the queen “to ask mercy.” Walking in the garden of Tsarskoe Selo, Masha met a middle-aged lady. In this lady, everything “involuntarily attracted the heart and inspired the power of attorney.” Learning who Masha was, she offered her help, and Masha sincerely told the lady the whole story. The lady turned out to be the empress, who pardoned Grinev just as Pugachev had pardoned both Masha and Grineva in due time.