Russia. Late XIX – early XX century. The Brothers of Color, Tikhon and Kuzma, were born in a small village of Durnovka. In their youth they were engaged in small trade, then they quarreled, and their ways parted.
Kuzma went to work for hire. Tikhon took off his inn, opened a tavern and shop, began buying up wheat and rye from the landlords, buying land for a pittance. Becoming a fairly wealthy owner, Tikhon bought even a manor house from the impoverished descendant of the previous owners. But this did not bring him joy: the wife gave birth only to dead girls, and there was nobody to leave everything that he had made. Tikhon did not find any consolation in the dark, filthy village life, except the tavern. He began to drink. By the age of fifty, he realized that there was nothing to remember from the runaway years, not a single close person is near, and he himself is a stranger to everyone. Then Tikhon decides to make peace with his brother.
Kuzma is a completely different person by nature. From childhood he dreamed of learning. A neighbor learned his reading and writing, a bazaar “freethinker”, an old accordionist, supplied books and joined discussions about literature. Kuzma wanted to describe his life in all its poverty and terrible routine. He tried to compose a story, then he began to write poetry and even published a book of simple verses, but he himself understood all the imperfections of his creations. And the income did not bring this
Here he finds Tikhon and suggests taking over the management of the estate. Settling in Durnovka, Kuzma is cheerful – finally, for him there was a quiet place. At night he walks with a beater – he watches the estate, reads the newspapers in the daytime and takes notes in the old office book about what he saw and heard around.
Gradually begins to overcome his longing: there is nobody to talk with. Tikhon appears rarely, speaks only of the economy, the meanness and malice of the peasants and the need to sell the estate. The cook Avdotya, the only living being in the house, is always silent, and when Kuzma is seriously ill, he gives it to himself and leaves without any sympathy to spend the night in the human.
Having hardly recovered, Kuzma goes to his brother. Tikhon greets the guest cordially, but there is no mutual understanding between them. Kuzma wants to share what he reads from the newspapers, but Tikhon does not care. He has long been obsessed with the idea to arrange Avdotya’s wedding with one of the village guys. Once he sinned with her for the sake of his indomitable desire to find a child – even if unlawful. The dream did not come true, and the woman was disgraced throughout the village.
Now Tikhon, who rarely goes to church, decides to justify himself before God. He asks his brother to take charge of the case. Kuzma is against this idea: he feels sorry for the unfortunate Avdotya, in whose fiance Tikhon identified a real “beast” who beat his own father, had no inclination for the au pair and was tempted only by the promised dowry. Tikhon stands on his own, Avdotya submits resignedly to unenviable fate, and Kuzma reluctantly yields to his brother.
The wedding is played in an orderly fashion. The bride sobs bitterly, Kuzma blesses her with tears, guests drink vodka and sing songs. The irrepressible February blizzard accompanies the wedding train to the dull chime of the bells.