A quavery period romance--with some stick-on sentiments about the evils of slavery. In 1840 Jessica Coopersmith travels from her native England to search for her cotton-merchant husband Jason, who has mysteriously disappeared in America. After a sea voyage--during which she befriends cabin-boy Billy and receives a discreet proposal from First Mate Douglas Graham--Jessica arrives at the Virginia plantation of handsome, slave-owning Charles Sedgely, husband of her cousin Eleanor. Eleanor, however, is deep into drink, thanks to Charles' fathering of a slave's child--little Aletha. Moreover, while Jessica manages to snap Eleanor out of her stupors, she herself becomes besotted with Charles. They love: ""She became pure feeling. . . a creature lost in responsive chords."" But even while the last strum is humming within, it is obvious they're miles apart on the matter of slavery, which Jessica abhors. She refuses to abide by its restrictions, tutoring black Joseph (in the kitchen) and shy Aletha. And she pulls away from Charles to continue her search for Jason, heading north with Aletha, Joseph (now ""hers""), and Billy (who has jumped ship). Also joining them, on the way to Philadelphia: runaway slave-girl Mandy. Their trek is runneled with danger; they barely escape the murderous patrols and ""paddy rollers""; a masked rescuer provides them with fresh horses and food. Finally, then, Jessica will join the Abolitionist proprietors of ""safe houses,"" will find and lose Jason, and will discover the identity of the Mysterious Protector. Young, doughy, but certainly well-meaning.