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. Incidentally, the child’s love of the hero for the cousin Sonya, whom he now meets and with which the novel begins immediately, is mentioned. Sonya coquettishly warns Vitali that tomorrow he will see her girlfriend at the gymnasium Natalie Stankevich, who will visit 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 of Sony, the role of the mistress of the house naturally goes to Natalie, who in the meantime avoids remaining with Vitali alone. One day Natalie tells Vitali that Sonya is angry with her for not trying to entertain him, and proposes to meet in the garden in the evening. Vitaly takes thought himself to what extent he owes this sentence to polite hospitality. During dinner, Vitali announces to his uncle and Natalie that he is going to leave. In the evening, when she and Natalie go for a walk, she asks him if it’s true, and he, responding in the affirmative, asks her permission to introduce herself
to her family. She goes back to the house with the words “yes, yes, I love you” and tells Vitali to leave tomorrow, adding that she will return home in a few days.
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.