In 1866 a boatload of prospective brides recruited by smooth-talking Asa Mercer set sari from New York for booming, mostly-male Seattle, accompanied by a New York Times reporter--and, in Cavanna's story of Mercer's belles, by 15-year-old Eliza Foster, three years a put-upon Salem bond servant. Eliza, who has to steal three dollars to reach New York, has no illusions: she'll be grateful to earn money at last and, maybe, get more schooling. (""With further education she might have become a schoolteacher working with children, helping their minds to expand and grow."") Stowing away, she does laundry to earn her passage; catches a spark of independence from brash, ""painted"" Rosie Brannon; and blossoms still more under the tender regard of young sailor Harry Svenson. But Harry drowns (in a not-quite-accident attributable, it turns out, to his concern for Eliza) and Rosie, whom she'd counted on, decides to ply her trade in wide-open San Francisco. But Eliza goes on to Seattle and, taking to its airy heights, finds a decent job in a boarding house--while the misled ""belles"" have to settle for uncouth farmers or undignified labor. Also on tap (there were shipboard intimations) is dejected, scholarly Alex Sterna, whom Eliza spurs to open a secondary school so, come their graduation, he'll have university students to teach. ""In later years,"" Cavanna concludes as if it were so, ""Professor Stenn said that he owed his signal achievements in education to the encouragement of his wife"" (who, presumably, satisified her aspirations thus). Smooth, earnest, and enlightened it is (unto injecting some anti-racism into the Brazilian stopover), but there's nary a spontaneous moment.