Madeleine Lee, the daughter of an eminent clergyman, is a woman of independent means. Now a 30-year-old widow from New York who, five years ago and in quick succession, lost her husband and her baby, she used to be "a rather fast New York girl" before her marriage but now is virtually unable to get over the great loss she has suffered.
Bored stiff by New York society, Madeleine Lee decides to go to Washington to be close to the hub of politics. Together with her sister Sybil Ross, she arrives in the capital, and in no time her salon becomes the meeting place of important people in the city. Although she has no intention whatsoever of becoming romantically involved, from among the group gathering around her two men emerge who would very much like to marry her: John Carrington, who is truly and deeply in love with her; and Silas P. Ratcliffe, whose marriage to Madeleine Lee would help him advance his political career.