The ignoble squabble which furnishes the motif for this novel by Henry James relates to the ownership of a collection of bric-a-brac and old furniture in an old Jacobean house in England, gradually collected by an elderly pair with one son. On the death of Mr. Gereth, Poynton, with all its belongings, becomes the property of this son, but to relinquish her cherished bibelots — especially to the heavy young Philistine whom the heir has selected as his wife — proves too much for the philosophy of Mrs. Gereth. First, she steals most of the valuables and transfers them to the small dower house assigned to her; then she intrigues to detach her son from his fiancé, and to make him care for another girl of her own selection with a kindred soul for old things. Then, supposing herself successful, she returns the spoil and dumps it down again in its former place, and so it goes on — Mrs. Gereth vibrating between cupidity and despair, her son between his two entanglements like the fabled ass, and young lady No. 2 betwixt hope and fear.