The 1920s. Thrown out of the house by her uncle, Aksinya marries her lover, a sexton, and five months later gives birth to a son, Coilin. After the sexton drowns in a stream, she works as a servant to nuns, introducing and dressing Coilin as a little girl. Entering school at the age of twelve, Coilin is expelled for backwardness, and finds work as an apprentice to various craftsmen. After three years in the army, he returns to find his mother dead and is turned away from his uncle's house. Visiting two orphaned boys who are distance relatives and finding them hungry and maltreated, he takes them under his wing and persuades his cousin Platonida to give them clothes. Settling in with the children in an unused room at Granny Rochovna's cottage, he sells home-made-polish and ink, does odd jobs, and applies unsuccessfully for work at the post office. Given an island by the town council, he builds a hut and teaches the boys to read. Four years later, Platonida's husband dies, and her ...