The story begins with Golovan and his master, the prince, who has hired him and given him money to safeguard. The scene then cuts to Grushenka, a Roma beauty, telling her father, Vasily, how she was harassed by the authorities. The prince visits Vasily and promises to help their family. The next day, the prince returns, and explains that they will need to pay a handsome sum to the governor to stop the harassment. While openly showing affection for Grushenka, he promises to help again; however, this time he would like Grushenka’s hand in marriage. Vasily declines the offer and the prince leaves, but Grushenka begs her father to chase after the prince and bring him back. She will marry him.
Meanwhile, Golovan and a lady of the night drink too much, and she spends her time trying to seduce him, unsuccessfully. He leaves and meets Grushenka on his way. He is so mesmerized by her beauty that he hands over to Grushenka all of the money he was safeguarding. Golovan then returns to the prince, who asks for his money back. Golovan admits to spending it all on a lovely Roma woman.
Grushenka appears and the prince twirls her in delight. The prince tells Golovan he is leaving for the city for a week, and places her in Golovan’s care. Grushenka asks Golovan to be her friend, but fearing that he would disobey the prince’s orders, he leaves. Upon the prince’s return, two months later, he finds Grushenka is pregnant. Realizing she is no longer welcome, Grushenka leaves. Golovan finds her in the woods beyond the prince’s lands, hearing wedding music in the background. She is heartbroken that the prince has chosen another, but Golovan offers to be faithful and to take care of her. She asks him to truly love her and help her take care of her and the baby, which he does.