In a Victorian melodrama with a decidedly modern twist, Laurel, an orphan, comes as lady's maid to Alice Plunderell just in time to save her from being murdered by her rapacious guardians, Lord and Lady Stayne. Lord Stayne locks the two, lightly clad, in an abandoned monastery to die of exposure, planning to blame Laurel for Alice's death and then to claim Alice's inheritance. Alice, brainwashed during a lengthy house-arrest, is ready to accept anyone else's decision, preferably a man's; but Laurel--although bound by the convention that as a servant she may not be her mistress' friend (though she soon loves her)--accepts nothing: she engineers escape; tricks the villains into believing that she and Alice have drowned; and shepherds Alice through an exciting (but not too difficult) reentry into the world--where Alice finds a suitor to her liking, and where Laurel, now wealthy because she did find the lost part of the treasure the Staynes were after, decides to visit America instead of marrying the rich, thoroughly nice young man who proposed (after all, she's only 14). As in Fleischman's Whipping Boy, these vigorous, broadly drawn characters act out some subtle lessons about society, friendship, identity, and competence. Their story can be read as a lively adventure with a spunky heroine, but Alice and Laurel (Laurel, among other things, is a cheerful Catholic in a Protestant society) provide some thought-provoking surprises as well.