Trajan Gray, a young American artist in Paris, has resolved himself to suicide after being rejected by Theo Carnot. Theo, in truth, is nothing more than an adventuress and had never intended to marry Trajan at all — she was using him as part of a smuggling scheme. Trajan is rescued by Elliot Arden, also American and also young, but despite his age, he’s the head of an immensely rich Boston family. Elliot befriends Trajan, and through him, Trajan meets and ultimately falls in love with Edith, Elliot’s sister.
Now returns Theo to the story. The Carnot fortune is quite ruined and Theo has fixed upon marrying Elliot. Elliot is already semi-engaged to his cousin Bella, but that’s not a great obstacle for the master tactician Theo. The presence of Trajan is the bigger problem, but she’s aided by Elliot’s supreme naivety and she’s quite able to drive a wedge between the two friends and expel Trajan from the group.
All the while in the background of the story is Napoleon III and the tottering French Second Empire. At last, the house of cards crumbles and the country is plunged into war. Paris is seized by the Communards, whose rule, though short-lived, brings a second reign of terror dotted with robbery, rape, and murder all in the name of the Commune. Trajan, in his earlier days, was something of a radical himself, but now he finds himself targeted as a “suspect”. It goes without saying that this is Theo’s doing.
Elliot at last discovers Theo’s treachery and sets about rescuing Trajan once again. It would have been better if he hadn’t, as while Trajan is quite capable and has in fact already freed himself, Elliot isn’t and only succeeds in getting himself arrested. Now Trajan must save Elliot, which he does nearly at the cost of his own life.
In the end when all is reveled, Trajan and Elliot are reconciled, Trajan marries Edith, and Elliot marries Bella. Even Theo makes out all right and manages to land a prince and a fortune.
I’ve left out several subplots of more or less importance, but that’s the main story line.
Inscription: Signed and dated on the front fly leaf in dull pencil, Katherine F. Stone, May 1885. Kat’s also underlined several passages throughout the book that she evidently found to be of particular wit.