Vitaly Meshchersky, a young man who recently entered the university, comes home on vacation, inspired by the desire to find love without romance. Following his plans, he travels around the neighboring estates, getting to one of the days in his uncle’s house. Along the way, he mentions the child’s love of the hero in the cousin Sonya, whom he now meets and with whom immediately begins the novel. Sonya coquettishly warns Vitali that tomorrow he will see her girlfriend at the gymnasium Natalie Stankevich, who is staying with her and fall in love with her “to the grave.” The next day in the morning he really sees Natalie and is amazed at her beauty. Since that time, sensual relations with Sonia and innocent admiration of Natalie are developing for Vitali at the same time. Sonia jealously assumes that Vitali is in love with Natalie, but at the same time asks him to pay more attention to the latter, in order to better hide his connection with him. However, Natalie does not leave Sonya’s relationship with Vitali unnoticed, and when he takes her hand, informs him of this. Vitali says that he loves Sonia as a sister.
The day after this conversation, Natalie does not go out for breakfast or dinner, and Sonya ironically assumes that she fell in love. Natalie appears in the evening and surprises Vitali with affability, liveliness, a new dress and a changed hairdo. On the same day, Sonya says that she is sick and will lie for five days. In the absence
Vitaly returns home and finds Sonya in her nightgown in her room. At the same moment Natalie appears on the threshold with a candle in her hand and, seeing them, runs away.
A year later Natalie marries Alexei Meshchersky, cousin Vitaly. A year later, Vitali accidentally meets her at the ball. Several years later, Natalie’s husband dies and Vitaly, fulfilling a kinship duty, comes to the funeral. They avoid talking to each other.
Years pass by. Meshchersky ends the university and settles in the village. He converges with the peasant orphan Gasha, who gives birth to his child. Vitali offers Gache to get married, but in response he hears a refusal, an offer to go to Moscow and a warning that if he is going to marry someone else, she will drown with the child. Some time later Meshchersky left abroad and on the way back sends Natalie a telegram, asking permission to visit her. Permission is given, a meeting takes place, a mutual sincere explanation and a love scene. Six months later Natalie dies of premature birth.