Elbert Carstairs, an elderly New Yorker, has been separated from his wife for twelve years, but they have remained friends. Mrs. Carstairs has their child Mary, who absolutely refuses to visit her father in spite of her mother's urging. Carstairs persuades his young friend Lawrence Varney to undertake the kidnapping of the girl under the impression she is a child of twelve. He goes on Carstairs's yacht, to the small Hudson River town where Mary lives, and in spite of his determination to make his visit as unobtrusive as possible, he no sooner lands than he is whirled into a series of adventures, involving him in a strenuous fight with an unscrupulous political ring. Affairs are further complicated by Varney's resemblance to Ferris Stanhope, a novelist, who formerly lived in the town and who had incurred the lasting hatred of the inhabitants by his treatment of a poor girl there.