Joyce is pursued by two men: the charming Beauclark and the slightly clingy Dysert. As the story progresses, it becomes clear to everyone but Joyce that Beauclark is a master manipulator, and is romancing both Joyce and the rich Miss Maliphant at the very same house party. Dysert, meanwhile, pushes Joyce too hard and fast (first by confessing his love, then by forbidding Joyce to go on a carriage ride with Beauclark) and ruins his own chances. Joyce instinctively understands that Beauclark is not to be trusted, but he's so good at making her feel guilty when she doubts him that she can never quite tear herself away. She goes back and forth between them throughout the book, never promising anything to either. It's amusing at first, but gets tiresome by the end. At last she rejects one marriage proposal and accepts the other.
The subplots concern her married sister's family (the Monkton children provide a great deal of amusement throughout) and the marriage problems of the hosts of the house party, Lord&Lady Baltimore. They were very much in love, but then she got wind that he'd been involved with an actress before their marriage and had been seen in her company after
their marriage to boot, and becomes utterly cold to him. This private estrangement goes on for years and is exceedingly boring to read, despite how melodramatically they deal with one another. They're constantly turning white with anger or sorrow or blushing at each other, as though they were chameleon lizards.
Eventually, he decides (after kissing her best friend, because she ~drove him to it~ with her coldness) to leave her forever, which is the spur she needs to take him back.
A middle of the road Victorian romance, with a hilariously awful ending:
'"And you—do you love but one?"
She makes a little mute gesture that might signify anything or nothing to the uninitiated, but to him is instinct with a most happy meaning.
"Am I that one, darling?"
She makes the same little silent movement again, but this time she adds to it by casting a swift glance upward at him from under her lowered lids.
"Make me sure of it," entreated he almost in a whisper. He leans over her, lower, lower still. With a little tremulous laugh, dangerously akin to tears, she raises her soft palm to his cheek and tries to press him—from her. But he holds her fast.
"Make me sure!" he says again. There is a last faint hesitation on her part, and then—their lips meet.
"I have doubted always—always a little—ever since that night down by the river," says he, "but now——"
"Oh, no! You must not doubt me again!" says she with tears in her eyes.