The action takes place after the First World War in a large German city. In the mansion of the seventy-year-old Matthias Clausen, a sleek gentleman, the secret commerce of an adviser, his anniversary is celebrated. There is a festive atmosphere in the house, many guests came. The Adviser by right enjoys the respect of the whole city. He is the owner of a huge enterprise, where his son-in-law is Erich Clarmot, the husband of his daughter Otilia. Clarmot gives the impression of a man of rough, provincial, but businesslike.
In addition to the thirty-seven-year-old Otilia, the counselor has three more children: Wolfgang, professor of philology; Bettina, a girl of thirty-six, slightly flabby; and son Egmont twenty years. He is active in sports, slim and beautiful. At first glance, relations in the family may seem very worthy. Everyone loves and reveres the secret counselor. Particular care for him every hour shows Bettina – she promised to do this to her mother before her death
three years ago. Matthias Clausen only recently recovered from this loss, but everyone understands that at any moment a new attack can happen to him. Therefore, the family doctor of the Clausen family, the health adviser Steinitz, carefully monitors the state of health and mental well-being of his patient and friend.
For some time in the family of Clausen there are signs of discontent and bewilderment. It is rumored that the adviser was sympathetic to Inken Peters, an eighteen-year-old girl who lives in the country estate of Matthias Clausen and who is his niece to the gardener Ebisch. She lives in Brockha with her uncle and mother, Frau Peters, the gardener’s sister. Her father had committed suicide several years ago in prison during the investigation instituted against him. He was accused that, moving to another duty station, he specifically set fire to all his property in order to illegally obtain an insurance premium. Wishing to protect the honor of the family, he laid hands on himself. The investigation, having understood all the circumstances of the case, completely proved his innocence.
Inken, sparing the feelings of her daughter, keeps her in the dark about the causes of her father’s death. However, soon after acquaintance with Matthias Clausen, Inken receives an anonymous letter (belonging to the hand of Wolfgang’s wife), opening her eyes to this event. Following the letter, Inken begins to receive and postcards of clearly offensive content. Almost at the same time, the manager of the estate, the counselor of justice Ganefeldt, and on behalf of the children of Matthias, face to face with her mother, offers Frau Peters forty thousand marks face to face, so that she and her brother and daughter move to another Klausen estate in Poland, and Inken said that she inherited. Frau Peter, however, is sure that her daughter will not agree and will never understand her.
Frau Peters persuades the daughter not to communicate with the counselor, but from the conversation understands that the girl’s feelings for Matthias are very strong. Inken wants to become his wife.
A few months after the birth of an adviser in his own house, the Clausen gather for a monthly breakfast (the first time after the death of Matthias’s wife). While the adviser in his office is talking with Inken, Clarmot, Matthias’s son-in-law, makes his servant Winter, remove the ninth device intended for the girl from the table. When Matthias and Inken come to the table, the adviser sees that someone dared to contradict his order. His indignation knows no bounds. In the heat of his displeasure, the council does not notice that Inken is running away. A little later, he tries to catch up with her, but without success. The family breakfast ends with the fact that after the violent wrangling Matthias of all his offspring who dared to believe that he owned them, he was thrown out of the house.
They go into indignation. They are irritated by the adviser because he gives Inken family jewelry, bought a castle in Switzerland on the lake shore and now rebuilds it and updates it for the “daughter of a convict”. Clarmot, deprived of all authority in the company of his father-in-law, incites the family to initiate in the court cases of custody of the adviser as a survivor of the old man’s mind.
For several weeks, Inken lives in the house of an adviser. They do not feel that black clouds are gathering over them. The counselor writes a letter to a friend of his youth, Geiger, and asks him to come. Geiger, however, arrives too late. The case in court has already been started, but while it lasts, the adviser is considered a person civilly inferior. None of his orders are fulfilled, he does not even have authority over himself. The guardian appointed him counselor of justice Ganefeldt, the one who played with his son Wolfgang in childhood, and then served as the manager of the estate of Clausen. Comes to the house and the entire family of the Clausen. Only one younger son of the adviser did not sign under the petition to initiate the case, not wanting to humiliate his father. The rest, pummeled by Klaromot, still do not realize the possible consequences of their actions,
Matthias asks them immediately and put him in the coffin, for what they have created means to him the end of existence. He renounces his offspring, from his marriage, cuts to pieces the portrait of his wife, written even at that time, when she was his bride. Geiger and Steinitz are escorting the counselor’s relatives outside the door.
After this scene, Clausen escapes from the house at night and rides to her estate in Brouhe. In his head everything was confused. He hopes to find Inken in the apartment of Frau Peters, to receive solace from communicating with her. He appears with his mother Inken at night, in a thunderstorm, all wet and spattered with mud. In it, with difficulty, despite his elegant clothes, one can recognize the once powerful adviser Clausen. Frau Peters and Ebisch try to calm him down, but to no avail. He keeps saying that his life is over. They still manage to take him to the bedroom, where he falls asleep. Ebis calls the pastor, consults with him what to do, calls to the city, to Clausen’s house, It turns out that everyone is looking for an adviser. Clarmot is furious with the fact that his victim escaped him.
A car drives up to the house. In it – Inken and Geiger, as well as the personal servant of Matthias Winter. They searched for an adviser for a long time and are now terribly surprised that they found it here. They hurry to put the adviser in the car and immediately want to take him to a safe place – in Switzerland, in his castle. However, Clausen asserts that now even Inken herself is not able to bring him back to life. While Inken, hearing the whistles of the cars of the children who came behind the adviser, who want to lock him in the hospital, with a revolver heading towards them to prevent him from entering the house, Matthias drinks poison and dies in seconds in the hands of Winter.
Ganefeldt comes into the house and starts talking about his duty again and that, despite such a regrettable outcome, he had the purest and best intentions.