In the autumn of 1919 Andrey Startsov came from the city of Mordovia in Semidol to Petrograd. He was mobilized in the army and arrived at the duty station. But instead of the expected dispatch to the front, Andrei is left as a clerk at the headquarters. Soon Rita comes to see him – a woman with whom he was close in Semidol and who now expects a child from him.
At the same time in Moscow, the German Council of Soldiers’ Deputies is a man who calls himself corporal Conrad Stein. He wants to return to his homeland, to Germany. Checking Stein’s documents, the employee is wondering if that certain von zur Mühlen-Schönau knows. Feeling the wrong, imaginary Conrad Stein is quietly hiding. He makes his way to Petrograd and, finding his old friend Andrew Startsov there,
1914 student Andrew Startsov met in Germany, in Nuremberg. He was friends with the artist Kurt Van, a spiritually close person. Kurt’s creative destiny was not easy: he was forced to give his paintings to the collection of Margrave von zur Mühlen-Schönau, who generously paid him – with the proviso that the artist will never exhibit his works. Kurt hated the benefactor. Learning about the beginning of the First World War, Kurt recoiled from his bosom friend Andrew, saying that now they have nothing to talk about. Andrew was exiled to the town of Bischofsberg. Since the beginning of the war, he felt himself “a speck among the huge masses of moving machine-like inevitability.” In the burgher Bischofsberg he was overcome by longing.
Marie Urbach was born in a villa near Bischofsberg, next to the family castle of Margraves von zur Mühlen-Schönau. Her parents’ marriage was considered a misalliance: the mother came from an old clan von Freileben, the father was a landowner and spent time drawing drafts that were not clear. Marie Urbach grew up a strange girl. Her appearance in the peasant’s yard
The people at the boarding house were strict. Miss Ronnie listened suspiciously, even to talk about pollination of plants in the lessons of natural science. Her educational system was recognized as a society and a supreme light impeccable. When she was in the boarding house, Marie felt that she was being pushed into an iron corset; she had to obey.
Two years later, Marie met a young lieutenant von zur Mühlen-Schönau in Weimar Street. The lieutenant took the girl by the arm, and, despite Miss Roni’s loud resentment, Marie left with him. She was away for three days. After that Lieutenant von zur Mühlen-Schönau came with her to Villa Urbach and made an offer in the presence of her parents. The betrothal was to take place two years later, in 1916, when Marie reached adulthood.
During the war, the mother of Marie Urbach was the patroness of a nutritious item at the station. Marie was helping her mother. After two years of war, she felt that she was bored. Once, during a walk in the neighborhood of Bischofsberg, she met the exile Andrew Startsov. Soon, Marie secretly entered his room. Of all that they talked about at night, Andrei and Marie remember only that they love each other.
Before sending to the eastern front, Margrave von zur Mühlen-Schönau drove home to see the bride. But Marie met him coldly. At this time she was busy with the escape plan for Andrei. Trying to cross the border, Andrew went to the park of the castle of Schönau, where he was seized by the margrave. In the castle Andrey saw pictures of his friend Kurt Wang. After talking about German art and human destiny, von zur Mühlen-Schönau wrote to Startsov a document confirming that the exile had not been on the run for several days, but at Schönau castle. Marie found out about the noble deed of Margrave, but did not tell Andrew about his relationship with him. Soon, von zur Mühlen-Schönau fell into Russian captivity. In 1918 the German authorities announced to Startsov that he could return to Russia. Leaving, he promised to call Marie, as soon as she was at home. Waiting for news from Andrew,
In Moscow, Andrei met Kurt Wang, who became a Bolshevik. Kurt was going to Mordovia, to the city of Semidol, for the evacuation of German prisoners and the formation of a soldier’s council among them. Andrei went with him. In Semidol, he met with the chairman of the executive committee, Semyon Golosov, the clerk Rita Tveretskaya, the chairman of the special department Pokisen. Votes often scolded Startsov for intellectual attempts to reconcile the ideal with the real. Rita Tveretskaya fell in love with Andrei.
The peasants of the village of Starye Ruchei of the Semidolsky Uyezd demanded the abolition of the surplus-appropriation. They were assisted by a detachment of former German prisoners under the command of von zur Mühlen-Schönau. The soldiers of the Semidol garrison brutally suppressed the peasant uprising, they hanged the invalid, who was considered the instigator. Andrei managed to sag most of the captured Germans to the side of the Bolsheviks. Among the prisoners assigned to be sent to Germany, he recognized the disguised Margrave von zur Mühlen-Schönau, whom the authorities sought. Markgraf asked Startsov for help. After long hesitation, Andrew kidnapped documents for him in the name of Konrad Stein and asked him to send a letter to his bride, Marie Urbach, upon arrival in Bischofsber. Markgraf promised to do this, hiding from Andrei that Marie was his bride.
Returning to Bischofsberg, von zur Mühlen-Schönau destroys his paintings of Kurt Wang. Having met Marie, he informs her that Startsov has a wife who is expecting a child. Not believing this, Marie decides to go to Russia. To obtain the right to enter, she marries a Russian soldier. The margrave writes about all this to Andrei. Arriving to her fiancé in Moscow, Marie sees pregnant Rita and runs away.
Andrew is desperate, he realizes that life never accepted him, despite all his efforts to be at the center of the main events. He can no longer remain in revolutionary Russia and wants to go to Germany, to Marie. Andrew appeals for help to Kurt Van, honestly tells him the whole story with the margrave and forged documents. Having penetrated with hatred for his ex-boyfriend, Kurt Van kills him. Shortly before his death, Andrei writes to Marie that he tried all his life to make everything in the world happen around him, but he was always washed and taken away. And people who only wanted to eat and drink were always in the center of the circle. “My fault is that I’m not wiry,” he concludes his letter.