With the terrible Civil War over, eighteen-year-old, orphaned Sarah Dietrich, reared by her aunt and uncle on their West Virginia farm, looks forward to a family celebration. Their neighbor Winn wants to court her, but she is not ready for marriage and longs to achieve something of merit beforehand. Upon learning her aunt’s highly immoral expectations for her, followed by the scene where she bludgeons a vagrant to save her cousin Emma’s virtue, she leaves the farm in male attire to avoid either consequence.
Spoiled Emma marries Winn and helps her brother Worth, who returns from the War handicapped, to run the farm. Gradually, with his insistence, she begins to mature. Worth finds support and encouragement from the Mulatto maid, who carries his child.
On her search for a new life, Sarah meets Jason, a gentleman, railroad agent, falls in love with him, but cannot hope for its return because of her male persona, and her past. She assumes the care of an orphan boy, and befriends Trudy, a young woman fleeing prostitution. Resuming her feminine role, Sarah and her friends find work and housing. Her relationship to Jason begins to change, when he meets her as a young woman, but that does not affect her past as a murderess.
In this post-Civil War romance, all of the young women with dreams of improving their lives, must overcome social mores of the period to achieve their goals of security, accomplishment, and love.