Last Updated September 5, 2023.
The story is about how one man comes to accept the presence of his new wife's two former husbands in his life.
In the beginning, we are told that Mr. and Mrs. Waythorne have shortened their honeymoon. The reason is that Lily Haskett, Mrs. Waythorne's daughter from a previous marriage, is ill with typhoid.
While watching Mrs. Waythorne (Alice) with Lily, Mr. Waythorne notes her admirable self-possession and love for her daughter, which is one reason why he fell in love with her. We also learn that Mrs. Waythorne is twice-divorced. Her former husbands are Mr. Gus Varick and Mr. Haskett.
As the story progresses, Mr. Waythorne learns that Mr. Haskett wants his visitation rights to be honored in New York City (where the Waythornes live). Previously, Lily had gone to her father in Utica. Although Mr. Waythorne is uneasy, he realizes that court orders must be obeyed. The uncomfortable prospect of seeing Mr. Haskett weighs on him, however.
At the train station, Mr. Waythorne is approached by Mr. Gus Varick, one of Mrs. Waythorne's former husbands. Varick voices his sympathy about Sellers (one of Mr. Waythorne's colleagues and the senior partner of the firm), who is said to be laid up with gout.
Later, Mr. Waythorne spies Mr. Varick again, this time at a restaurant. He notes the strange sensation of running into one of his wife's former husbands.
At home, Mrs. Waythorne tells Mr. Waythorne that the doctor has given a favorable prognosis of Lily's condition. She also admits that Mr. Haskett saw Lily that day. She, however, did not see him, as the servant let Mr. Haskett in.
Ten days after, Sellers asks Mr. Waythorne to call at his home. There, Mr. Waythorne learns that, prior to his illness, Sellers had entered into some sort of business partnership with Mr. Varick. Apparently, Mr. Varick wants advice on negotiating better terms for an investment. Since Sellers is laid up, he asks Mr. Waythorne to handle the matter.
Although this puts him in an awkward position, Mr. Waythorne agrees to help Mr. Varick.
The story's focus soon turns to Mr. Haskett's visits to Lily. For his part, Mr. Waythorne has stayed out of the way during the other man's visits. One day, however, he forgets to take the usual precautions and runs into Mr. Haskett upon his return home.
There, the two men engage in awkward, polite conversation. Later, Mr. Waythorne privately wonders why he feels so uncomfortable in Mr. Haskett's presence. After all, he doesn't feel the same way about Mr. Verick. Eventually, he concludes that it's because he and Mr. Haskett don't share the same social habits or outlook on life. As Mr. Waythorne continues thinking about his chance meeting with Mr. Haskett, uncomfortable questions about his wife emerge from the shadows.
To Mr. Waythorne, Mr. Haskett is quite an ordinary man, despite what he considers the latter's cringe-worthy habits. However, Mr. Waythorne finds it a continued challenge to relate to Mr. Haskett. He is even more uncomfortable when he learns that Mrs. Waythorne actually conversed with Mr. Haskett during one of his previous visits. At this point, Mr. Waythorne feels burdened by countless unnamed emotions.
The situation comes to a head when Mr. Haskett informs Mr. Waythorne that he dislikes Lily's new French governess. After a tense discussion with Mrs. Waythorne, Mr. Waythorne fires the governess. To add to his distress, Mr. Waythorne later chances upon Mr. Verick conversing with Mrs. Waythorne.
The story ends on a humorous note, however. For his part, Mr. Waythorne comes to the conclusion that he is married to a woman who is bound to her past. So, when he sees Mr. Haskett waiting on Mrs. Waythorne in the library one day, he offers the other man a cigar. The two are soon joined by Mr. Verick. Immediately after, Mrs. Waythorne enters and pours tea for the three men in her life.