The novel takes place in St. Petersburg in January 1826. The main character – Ivan Evdokimovich Avrosimov occupies the position of clerk in the highest approved commission. His duties include keeping records of interrogations of those who took part in the mutiny in the Senate Square. Being a shy provincial, he managed to get on so serious a job at the request of his uncle, the captain-retired Avrosimov Artamon Mikhailovich, who distinguished himself before Emperor Nikolai Pavlovich, having rendered him an invaluable service on the day of taking the oath on December 14.
Ivan Evdokimovich bravely carried out his work until the interrogations of Colonel Pestel began. From that moment inexplicable things began to happen to the clerk.
First, a mysterious stranger tries to
Ivan Evdokimovich, frightened and not knowing what to do, asks about his serf Egorushka, who does not respond with horror.
One incident only pleases the clerk – night entertainment in the company of officers, including Pavel Buturlin, secretary of Tatishchev, and their gay frivolous acquaintances. Girls Avrosimov accepts for quite decent women and even offers one of them in the heat of passion to become his wife.
After a short while, Ivan Evdokimovich still meets with a mysterious stranger who was the wife of Vladimir Ivanovich Pestel, the brother of the detained colonel. On a date, Avrosimov swears that he will fulfill any of her requests.
Gradually, Ivan Evdokimovich begins to unconsciously revere Pestel and once, on a visit to his uncle, he hears the story of Captain Arkady Ivanovich Mayboroda, who served with Pestel and later betrayed the boss.
Avrosimov decided to acquaint the captain with his fellow officers, and he for them repeats his history of relations with Pestel, after which he unexpectedly receives a hard slap from Buturlin.
In the morning Avrosimov again
Having woken up and having come on service, he receives the order to accompany one of the prisoners to Little Russia. It was Lieutenant Zaikin, who agreed to show where “Russian Truth” was. Avrosimov often saw Zaikin’s sister Nastenka, who was constantly waiting for her brother at the Peter and Paul Fortress. At the same time, our hero had a burning desire to give her any help.
After handing Pestel in the box of questionnaires, on the way to the house the clerk again meets with the crew of Tatishchev and he hears, as before, very unpleasant questions about the fascination of Pestel. Avrosimov dreams of hurrying to go on the road.
Together with Ivan Evdokimovich accompanying Zaikin was sent to captain Sleptsov, who proposes to stay overnight in his estate. Half-asleep, Avrosimov sees the colonel conducting his intelligent and dangerous conversations about Russia’s fate and future, Pisar involuntarily admits to himself that the Colonel is still exceptionally charming.
The evening at the estate was wonderful – a girlish choir and an excellent meal arranged everyone for a pleasant conversation. At night, the convict and Avrosimov agreed on Pestel’s fascination. As a result, Zaikin did not indicate the place where the manuscripts were hidden. He simply did not know him. But under the pressure of Sleptsov he nevertheless pointed to his brother Fyodor, who knows exactly the secret store.
Indeed, Fedya shows where Pestel’s papers are hidden. But, to his own misfortune, he had too much conversation with the captain and was arrested for his frankness. Avrosimov accompanies it with a slap in the face, but decided to postpone the duel to Petersburg.
On the way back, all three again drove into the estate. Sleptsov, demonstrating at the same time care and the lowest qualities, wishing to satisfy his unconscious sense of superiority, arranges a staged robbery attack in which Avrosimov suddenly injures one of the attackers, horrifying everyone else who believes that no one else had weapons.
The prisoner Zaikin called such a rally “bordering on meanness” and asked Avrosimov to send a letter to his sister Nastenka. After fulfilling Zaikin’s request, Ivan Evdokimovich goes to Amalia Petrovna and accidentally hears her conversation with her husband, Pestel’s brother. After the hearing, Avrosimov understands who actually loves Amalia and offers her a plan to escape from the fortress.
Unexpectedly, unknown persons appear from somewhere (Filimonov, Gordon and Starodubtsev). They offer at first unselfishly, then for money to help implement the plan, but they get a refusal from Avrosimov. It seems that, in addition to his will, the “escape machine” has already “wound up”. However, unexpectedly Amalia Petrovna herself gives Tatishcheva all the secret plans. Avrosimova is arrested at the time of the discussion of the duel with the captain. During the interrogation, the clerk denies everything, after which he is sent to the village, where he marries Nastenka and expects Myatlev with Lavinia.