(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

Julia Shane was a wealthy old woman, living with her two daughters in a mansion which had decayed greatly since the mills of the town had encroached upon her grounds. Although the house was now surrounded on three sides by railroad yards and steel mills, Julia Shane refused to move away. Mrs. Shane was worried about her girls. Irene, the younger, was, in her mother’s opinion, too pious to live. Lily, who was twenty-four years old, had been in love with the governor, a man twenty years older than she. The real complication was that Lily was going to have a baby and refused to marry the governor despite the urgings of both the man and her mother.

The Shanes were wealthy; it was easy for Lily to leave the town for a trip abroad. Her departure caused no talk or scandal, although Mrs. Harrison, whose son Lily had also refused, was suspicious.

During the four years Lily was in Europe, life was dull in the gloomy old mansion. Irene taught English to the workers in the mills and tried to convince her mother that she wanted to become a nun. Old Julia Shane, the last of a long line of Scottish Presbyterians, would hear none of such nonsense.

Then, unexpectedly, Lily came home. Once again, there were parties and dances in the old house. Lily was much impressed by her cousin, Ellen Tolliver, a talented pianist, and offered to help the girl if she would go to Paris. The day after Christmas, Irene and Lily were taken on a tour of the steel mills by Willie Harrison, the mill owner, who once again asked Lily to marry him. She refused, disgusted with the spineless businessman who was ruled by his mother. When news came from Paris that her small son had the measles, Lily was glad to leave the town again. Shortly afterward, Ellen Tolliver also escaped from the town by marrying a salesman from New York.

Several years later, there was a strike in the steel mills. Only Hattie Tolliver, Julia Shane’s niece and Ellen’s mother, braved the pickets to enter the mansion. Without her help, life at the house would have been extremely difficult. Although Julia Shane was dying and confined to her bed, the merchants of the town refused to risk deliveries to a house so near to the mills where shots were occasionally fired and where mobs of hungry strikers loitered. On one of her errands of mercy, Hattie Tolliver learned that her daughter, now a widow, was in Paris studying music.

When she heard that her mother was dying, Lily returned from Europe. She and Hattie Tolliver stayed with Julia Shane until she died a few weeks later. Irene was no help. Hattie Tolliver shrewdly summed up Irene for Lily by noting that the younger girl was selfish in her unselfishness to the poor workers and filled with pride in her lack of ordinary worldly pride.

After her death, Julia Shane’s daughters remained in the mansion until the estate was settled. Lily was bored, but excitement came...

(The entire section is 1190 words.)