Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 347
While on a nature hike, the main character, who later identifies himself as “Smith,” has a mysterious fall and loses consciousness. When he awakes, he finds himself covered with dirt and roots. As he tries to find his way home, he comes upon a funeral party. Smith sees the beautiful young girl Yoletta and is filled with desire for her. Yoletta and the other members of the funeral party detect him and notice his different speech and clothing. He inquires about the nearest city, only to learn that the members of the funeral party have never heard of cities, England, or anything else related to Smith’s past experience.
Smith is taken to their house, where he occasionally offends his hosts because he does not understand their customs. He becomes ashamed of his clothing and tries to buy a suit of clothing like those the others are wearing. His hosts have never heard of money but agree to allow him to work for a year for his clothing. He works each day chopping down trees, hoping to get closer to Yoletta.
Smith’s passion for Yoletta grows, but she shows no understanding of love except for the love between brother and sister. Smith notices that there is a father in this household but no apparent couples. He finally asks about Yoletta’s mother and learns that he has unknowingly offended the family by not asking about the mother sooner. He visits the “mother’s room” where Chastel, Yoletta’s mother, stays, too weak to come out. On the way to the room, he passes a series of lifelike statues and learns about the grief of Isarte, a former mother in the house. Smith learns from Chastel that only mothers feel true grief.
Yoletta eventually develops a passionate love for Smith, and Chastel apparently plans that Yoletta will become the next mother, with Smith as the father. Smith accidentally drinks a potion that turns him into a statue like the ones he passed on the way to the mother’s room. Yoletta experiences true grief at his loss.