A woman saved her fiance’s life when his lab experiment went wrong and the beaker he’d been working over exploded. She pushed him away and took the blast herself and was badly burned. The man abandoned her without a word, married someone else, and had a child. For twenty-five years, Evelina’s held the grudge. She meets Piper Tom, ostensibly an itinerant dry goods salesman but really something more. He’s seen many a small town, he says, with preachers whose only notion of religion is hellfire and whose congregations know nothing of acceptance, and it’s his mission to spread forgiveness. In the end, Dexter, haunted by his cowardly abandonment and ashamed of losing his son’s trust, kills himself with an overdose of laudanum. Evelina at last is able to let go of her anger. She and Tom marry.
I’ve elided over large parts of the story. I can’t say that I have a strong stomach for horror, and this book is shockingly gruesome in parts. The vivisection, especially, I don’t care to elaborate on.