When Marcellus Hall dies, the single question on everyone’s mind is what’s to become of his seven year old stepdaughter, Mary Augusta Lathrop. Whoever takes her, it’s assumed that she’ll be well provided for — Hall was a wealthy man and he had no other heirs. It comes a shock to Shadrach Gould and Zoeth Hamilton that, in his will, Hall asked them to adopt Mary-‘Gusta. It comes as another shock that, whatever money Hall once had, it’s gone now. He died nearly a pauper.
Shad and Zoeth have lived together for some 35 years. They were once business partners with Marcellus Hall, but something happened — something unspeakable that everyone would rather as not forget — and the business went bankrupt. Now they keep a general store of their own in Cape Cod. Though far from rich, they spare no expense in raising Mary-‘Gusta and ensuring that she has every possible advantage, including sending her away to a fancy finishing school in Boston. They keep it a secret from everyone, Mary-‘Gusta too, that there is no trust fund — they’re paying for it all.
Mary-‘Gusta is a very sensible and level-headed girl. She’s not there just to find a husband, as many of the other girls are. Still, a friendship develops between her and Crawford Smith that grows into love. Crawford hopes to go to medical school at Harvard, to the chagrin of his father back in Nevada, who has an extreme prejudice against the east coast.
Mary-‘Gusta finds out accidentally that she has no money of her own. She returns home at once to find her uncles drowning in debt, their store failing for lack of operating funds, and facing the almost inevitability of losing the house. Under her stewardship, and with the help of friends and connections she made in Boston, she pulls them out of their death spiral.
Crawford, back in Nevada, asks his father’s permission to marry Mary-‘Gusta. This he won’t grant and it’s no wonder that he won’t: Edgar Farmer, alias Edwin Smith, was the fourth partner at the Hall company, who embezzled every penny they had then ran away with Zoeth Hamilton’s wife. Crawford only learns his shameful family history on his father’s deathbed. He and Mary-‘Gusta are reconciled and marry. He takes up a medical practice in Cape Cod.
Inscription: Signed Hazel Dermody on the front flyleaf. Directly beneath the signature, in the same hand, is written “Warning:- the book is minus a page, number 7+8. Of little consequence to the reader. H.D.” And she was right. It appears to be a factory error as I can see no sign of a page being torn or cut out.