The story takes place in 1833 in Moscow, the main character – Volodya – sixteen years old, he lives with his parents at the dacha and is preparing to enter the university. Soon, the family of Princess Zasekin enters the poor outbuilding in the neighborhood. Volodya accidentally sees the princess and very much wants to meet her. The next day his mother receives an illiterate letter from Princess Zasekina asking for her protection. Mother sends Princess Volodya with an oral invitation to her house. There Volodya gets acquainted with the princess – Zinaida Alexandrovna, who is five years older than him. Princess immediately calls him to her room to untangle the wool, coquetting with him, but quickly loses interest in him. On the same day Princess Zasekina visits his mother and makes an extremely unfavorable impression on her. However, despite this, mother invites her along with her daughter for dinner. During dinner, the princess sniffs snufflily, fidgets in a chair, turns, complains of poverty and talks about her endless bills, and the princess, on the contrary, is majestic – she talks all her dinner with Volodin’s father in French, but looks at him hostilely. She does not pay attention to Volodya, however, when she leaves she whispers to him that he should come to them in the evening.
Appearing to Zasekin, Volodya gets acquainted with the admirers of the princess: Dr. Lushin, poet Maidanov, Count Malevsky,
In the absence of Zinaida, he languishes, but in her presence he does not feel any better, he is jealous, offended, but can not live without her. Zinaida easily guessed that he was in love with her. Zinaida rarely goes to the house of her parents Volodya: she does not like my mother, her father does not speak much to her, but somehow she is especially clever and significant.
Suddenly Zinaida is changing a lot. She leaves to walk alone and walks for a long time, sometimes the guest does not show at all: she sits for hours in her room. Volodya realizes that she is in love, but does not understand – in whom.
Once Volodya sits on the wall of a dilapidated conservatory. Below, Zinaida appears on the road. Seeing him, she orders him to jump onto the road if he really loves her. Volodya immediately jumps and for a moment loses his feelings. Disturbed Zinaida takes care of him and suddenly starts kissing him, but realizing that he came to himself, he gets up and, after forbidding him to follow him, leaves. Volodya is happy, but the next day, when he meets with Zinaida, she keeps very simply, as if nothing happened.
Once they meet in the garden: Volodya wants to pass by, but Zinaida stops him himself. She is nice, quiet and kind with him, invites him to be her friend and complains of the title of her page. Between Volodya and Count Malevsky there is a conversation in which Malevsky says that the pages should know everything about their queens and follow them persistently, day and night. It is not known whether Malevsky gave special significance to what he said, but Volodya decides to go to the garden at night, taking with him an English knife. In the garden he sees his father, is very frightened, loses a knife and immediately returns home. The next day Volodya tries to talk about everything with Zinaida, but a twelve-year-old cadet comes to her, and Zinaida instructs Volodya to entertain him. In the evening of the same day Zinaida, finding Volodya in the garden, incautiously asks him why he is so sad. Volodya cries and reproaches her for playing it. Zinaida asks for forgiveness, comforts him, and after a quarter of an hour he is already running around with Zinaida and the cadet and starts laughing.
For a week Volodya continues to communicate with Zinaida, driving away all thoughts and memories from herself. Finally, returning once to dinner, he learns that a scene has occurred between father and mother that the mother reproached her father for Zinaida and that she learned about it from an anonymous letter. The next day, my mother announces that she is moving to the city. Before leaving, Volodya decides to say goodbye to Zinaida and tells her that she will love and adore her for the rest of the days.
Volodya once again accidentally sees Zinaida. He and his father go on horseback riding, and suddenly the father, dismounted and giving him the reins of his horse, disappears in the alley. After a while, Volodya followed him and saw that he was talking to Zinaida through the window. The father insists on something, Zinaida does not agree, at last she holds out her hand, and then the father raises the whip and sharply beats it on the naked hand. Zinaida shudders and, silently raising her hand to her lips, kisses the scar. Volodya runs away.
Some time later Volodya and his parents moved to Petersburg, entered the university, and six months later his father died of a blow, receiving a letter from Moscow a few days before his death, which greatly agitated him. After his death, his wife sends a fairly large sum of money to Moscow.
Four years later Volodya meets Maidanova in the theater, who tells him that Zinaida is now in St. Petersburg, she happily married and is going abroad. Although, Maidanov added, after that story, it was not easy for her to form a party; there were consequences… but with her mind everything is possible. Maidanov gives Volodya the address of Zinaida, but he goes to her only after a few weeks and finds out that she suddenly died four days ago from childbirth.