While Carol remains unaware of her husband's affair with Maud Dyer, Maud pretends to be Carol's friend. At the Jolly Seventeen, Maud tells Carol about Nat Hicks's new assistant tailor, a young man who looks and acts so feminine that people call him Elizabeth. He wears a coat and tie, talks in a refined manner, and reads all the time. The ladies of the club laugh at him for putting on airs. On Sunday, the Kennicotts attend church and Carol notes the young man known as Elizabeth, whose real name is Erik Valborg. To Carol, Erik looks like a young poet. As the people in town poke fun of him and criticize him for failing to enlist, Carol feels the need to defend him but remains silent.

Fern Mullins, the new high school teacher, arrives from Minneapolis and boards with Mrs. Bogart. When Carol and Fern meet, they find that they have much in common and form a new friendship. Meanwhile, Carol longs to talk to Erik and meets him in the tailor shop. She learns that he is interested in drama and that he shares her love for beautiful things. Carol invites Erik and Fern to her house to discuss restarting the dramatic club. Though Kennicott acts politely to Fern, he acts coldly to Erik.

Carol takes Hugh walking and encounters Erik. As they talk, Erik tells Carol about his life and ambitions: he wants move to the East and become a dress designer, despite the fact that many people laugh at his dream and that he fears not becoming successful. Erik, the son of a Swedish farmer, has received only a self-taught education; Carol notes how he mispronounces many words. Asked for her advice, Carol tells Erik to continue to educate himself in a more systemic manner. As they walk home together, Carol sees Mrs. Bogart and Aunt Bessie staring at her through a window.

Carol finds herself thinking constantly about Erik. Although she wants to help him and feels responsible for him, she does not want to interfere with his life. When she meets Erik again, he tells her that he is making efforts to educate himself and that he regards her as his teacher. For a brief moment, Carol remembers her father and associates him with Erik.

Erik is interested in tennis, and organizes a tennis tournament. However, on the day of the tournament, Harry Haydock moves the tournament to another court without telling Erik. Carol decides to play tennis anyway, along with Erik and the other couples Harry has deliberately snubbed. Slowly, the town accepts Erik as an intelligent, polite young man. Although Carol notes Erik's admiration for her, she looks at herself in the mirror one day and suddenly feels old and unattractive.

Carol, the Dyers, Erik, Cy Bogart, and Fern Mullins spend a day together at the lake. Carol feels jealous at Maud Dyer's display of affection for Erik. When Erik asks Carol to go for a boat ride, she agrees and feels very conscious of his presence next to her. As Erik talks about how much he admires her, Carol feels content and does not insist on returning to shore. When they do return, she feels embarrassed for being gone such a long time.