After having spent thirty-five comfortable summers at Nice, the Castlemaines are faced with poverty. Novelist Henry Castlemaine’s name has been forgotten; in fact, people believe that he died long ago. His forty-six-year-old daughter, Dora, who has decided to serve her widowed father and attend to “his needs as a public figure,” is worried about money. It has been thirty years since her father was recognized everywhere. Henry insists on patronizing an expensive place near the casino in Nice; Dora protests but relents, chided by her father for being “vulgar,” that is, concerned about costs and prices.
One March, when Dora and her father are forced to abandon their expensive hotel, she meets Ben Donadieu, who is vacationing with his friend Carmelita Hope, the daughter of the famous novelist Kenneth Hope, “a shy, thin, middle-aged man” whose creative “magic” Dora admires. Carmelita likes Ben for being an “intellectual,” but she thinks that Ben loves her chiefly for being the novelist’s daughter. Ben is keenly interested in talking to Carmelita’s father, whom she praises for not interfering in her life.
Dora accepts a job as an elocution teacher. Her father objects; he sulks and complains that he is a burden to her and that he ought to “go off and die.” It is one of their affectionate quarrels: They are “shrewd in their love for each other.” In her job, Dora again encounters Ben, who inquires, to her delight, if she is related to Henry Castlemaine.
Meanwhile, Ben’s relation with Carmelita is in trouble; he wants to find out if Carmelita still means anything to him without sex. Carmelita wonders if Ben is “practising a form of cruelty to intensify her obsession.” Her father does not want to help Ben for her sake. When Ben mentions his acquaintance with Dora, Carmelita thinks that his interest in the Castlemaines would “make everything easier for both of us.” It turns out that this friendship spells the end of Ben’s engagement with Carmelita. Henry Castlemaine urges Dora to marry Ben, and Dora accepts this as a kind of “destiny.” The father-daughter conspiracy manifests a shrewdness capable of absorbing Ben as “a born disciple.”