Mary Grice is courted and seduced by a man calling himself Arthur Carr. Carr is called away on business, and his letters to Mary (presumably professing his honourable intentions toward her) are intercepted by Mary’s sister Joanna, who considers Carr to be socially inferior to the Grices. Joanna drives the pregnant, unmarried Mary from the family home. Mary gives birth to a daughter and dies miserably, attended only by performers from a travelling circus. Mary Jr. becomes a circus performer and is struck deaf and dumb after a riding accident, making her one of several of Collins’ characters with severe physical disabilities. She is exploited by the circus owner, and to rescue her Mrs Peckover takes her to the home of a minister, Dr Joyce. There Valentine Blyth, a painter, sees her and himself adopts her. Mary Jr. grows up beautiful and acquires the nickname Madonna for her resemblance to figures of the Virgin Mary in Italian Renaissance painting.