The author gives a description of the officers of the Nicholas period, singling out in the gallery portraits of second lieutenant Yury Romashov – a young, ambitious, slightly narcissistic and touchy. Full of daring dreams, he sees no point in the existing army system. The military orders suppress it, force it to roll down and forget about the old vain plans.
A bright spot in the gloomy life of a young officer who gradually slips into drunkenness and debauchery is Shurochka Nikolaeva, the wife of one of her colleagues. Romashov eagerly visited the Nikolaevs to see Shura once more, but such meetings became more and more painful and humiliating for him. It seemed to the young man that Shurotchka was laughing at him. Therefore Romashov was looking for another outlet – in the company of an officer of Nazanskiy, a famous drunkard, who turned out to be a delicate philosopher.
Wrath of the commander Shulgovich furious Romashov, who from that moment finally disgusted the army. Shortly thereafter, the young man turns up at the invited party and sees the insignificance of the poor and vulgar “secularity” of the military and their wives, wretchedness has tried to restore the former gloss to officers’ routs. The decadent mood is aggravated by impressions from the drill of soldiers and junior officers, the absurdity of the entire officer school. Romashov tries to forget himself in his entertainments, but he does not have enough money for this.
Soon the town spreads gossip about the non-existent connection between Yuri and Shurochka. Romashov has a difficult explanation with Nikolayev, who so far believes in the honesty of his wife and colleague. Suppressed by overwhelming grievances, Romashov lives for a time a hermit, but then does not stand up and appears on the parties of former friends. On one of the parties he is fighting with Nikolaev because of a trifle. Mutual insult can be washed away only by blood: both officers agree to a duel. Shortly before the duel, Yuri again meets with Nazanskiy, revealing to the young man the depths of his philosophy and depicting the true tragedy of the officers. Then there is a meeting with Shura, who admits that she is in love with Yuri. In a duel Romashov, regretting the feelings of Shurochka, refuses to shoot Nikolayev and perishes.