On a steamer, returning from Europe, John Lenox finds himself seated next to Mary Blake. They haven’t seen each other since childhood, but John is quickly enamored by Mary. The acquaintance continues once they reach New York and John’s affection grows, but he knows that he’s in no position to propose: John’s father has recently died and the estate John inherited was not quite what he anticipated. Compared to Mary’s wealth, John is a pauper.
After an abortive apprenticeship at a law office, John takes a cashier job offered by David Harum. David is a banker and horse dealer in Homeville, a small but rapidly growing town in upstate New York. Though quite successful now, he came from nothing — running away from his abusive home as a child with only a dime to his name. David has a reputation for being shrewd and not entirely honest, but the interest David takes in John is genuine, and after a while, the two grow to be great friends.
John has built up a small savings after five years at work, which, by David’s advice, he has invested wisely. To use David’s words, John’s present wealth, if not great, is at least “consid’able”. John has made partner at the bank and David intends for him to take ownership once he retires.
One winter, John takes seriously ill. The doctor advises him to travel to a warm, dry climate to recuperate, which, under David’s insistence, he reluctantly agrees to do. Aboard the ship to Italy, John runs into Mary again. They haven’t met since John went to Homeville, and events and accidents had transpired that prevented them even from writing to one another. Mary appears to be married — at least, that’s John’s impression — and so, safe in defeat, John is fearless enough to declare his love. But John is mistaken: Mary is not married and she loves John as well. Further, she’s not unwilling to give life in Homeville a try.