Burke is the spoiled only child of John Denby, a wealthy widower. John is greatly attached to the boy, not only as a son, but also as the only living reminder of his wife. Used to getting what he wants, Burke ignores his father’s criticism when he falls head-over-heals for a maid. It isn’t the difference in wealth that troubles John so much as that Burke and Helen have absolutely nothing in common and have no shared interests. Burke elopes without his father’s blessing.
The newlyweds are not happy, and once the novelty of married life wears off, all that’s left is bitter resentment, on both sides. John proposes a vacation apart — inviting Burke to accompany him on his trip to Alaska and offering Helen $10,000 to go where she will. Burke agrees. Never mind what John’s intent was, Helen takes the news the only way it might be taken. Helen disappears with their infant daughter, Betty. Selfish as always, Burke initially blames all his woes on his wife, but as years pile on years, he comes to understand how responsible for the situation he was and is crushed by remorse.
Eighteen years later, Burke is recommended a new private secretary by an old friend, the sight of whom rekindles many long-suppressed emotions. It’s Betty. Helen had gone to Burke’s friend at once with the mad Eliza Doolittle-ish scheme of learning how to be a swell so that her husband would stop being ashamed of her (beginning with not using words so gauche as “swell”). She eventually abandoned all hope for herself and devoted her life to ensuring that Betty would grow up to be socially refined. The secret comes out and the three reunite as a family: Burke, chastened; Helen, beatified; and Betty, unconsciously classy.
Inscription: on the title page, “To Vesta Day, from Marjorie, Dec 19th, 1919”.