A somewhat misguided prodigal is widowed Julia Dunstan and her kind actions and good thoughts do not always lead to the proper audience reaction. Inheriting Belmont House, whose (but not perhaps quite accurate?) memories completely seduce her, she collects Dora Duckworth, a cousin who has had a ""hard life"" to be her companion there; she adds on Nanny, whose age gives her complaining privileges, and her dead husband's nephew, Robert, whose youth creates other minor irritations and with her readymade household settles in to the life of Gostock. Problems pop from all quarters: the possibility of the Vicar getting married; young Harriet's attempts to break Marian's engagement to a missionary, with Robert as a substitute; Lady Finch's over the outcome from a sale of her honeycombs; the seclusion of Julia's cousin, Francis; Robert's interest in Harriet -- and Julia's well mani fingers get into everything. Scheming is reprehensible, but planning is proper, even when the results are not up to expectations, and Francis is a proper reward for her, whether she ruffles, or is ruffled. Placid pastorale.