Popova, a widow, is still in mourning for her husband, and Smirnov arrives, insisting on seeing her because he has come to collect money that Popova's husband owed him. Popova feels that her "life lost all its meaning" when her husband, Nicolai Mihailovitch, died, and she insists that she will mourn him until her dying day. Smirnov, however, pushes his way into her home because his financial situation is somewhat urgent. He is required to pay some interest on a mortgage tomorrow, and so he needs to collect from Popova in order to make his payment.
Popova says that she has no money with which to settle this debt today; she will be able to pay the debt on the day after tomorrow, when her financial manager returns. Further, Popova claims that her "state of mind," since it is the seven-month anniversary of the death of her husband, prevents her from being in any place to handle money matters today. Smirnov, on the other hand, is threatened with losing his estate if he cannot pay what he owes, and he feels he will have to kill himself if he loses his estate. He gets very angry because Popova's home is merely the last stop on his journey to collect money from everyone who owes him, and none of them can pay him. He vows to stay at Popova's home until she pays him.
The pair fight for a long time, and Popova eventually insults Smirnov. As a result, Smirnov challenges Popova to a duel over his honor, and she fetches her husband's pistols. As he teachers her how to hold it and shoot, he begins to admire her, and he confesses that he likes her. She is unlike any woman he has ever known. Soon, he proposes marriage! In the end, Popova's manservant finds them kissing.