The action takes place in Russia, in 1775 during the Pugachov rebellion. Young Pyotr is sent to a fortress by his parents to enlist as a soldier. On the way he is helped through a snowstorm by a guide who later turns out to be the rebel leader, Pugachov. At the fortress he falls in love with Masha, the commandant's daughter. Soon, the rebels overtake the fortress and kill Masha's parents. Pyotr becomes implicated in the rebellion, but Masha's appeals to Catherine the Great bring about his acquittal.