Lieutenant Howard, a young man serving in the American navy during the War of 1812, is in love with a young woman named Laura Hewson. They meet while he is on leave and, though their love remains unspoken, the narrator leaves the reader no doubt that it is mutual.
However, when the Lieutenant unexpectedly visits the Hewson house after this initial encounter, he interrupts Laura saying good-bye to an officer in the British army. Laura slams the door on him when he accuses her family of harboring a traitor, and he leaves with the suspicion that Laura has given her affection to another man. When the Lieutenant is back with the navy, he encounters and becomes friends with Laura’s brother, a captain in the army. Captain Hewson informs the Lieutenant that the British officer was the suitor of his other sister, and the Lieutenant tells the captain of his own attachment to Laura. When they are allowed to travel home over the winter, Captain Hewson invites the Lieutenant to join him. During this time both Laura and the Lieutenant have plenty of time to think, and when they see each other again, Laura explains the misunderstanding.
During the long winter, the Lieutenant and Laura become increasingly attached. The Lieutenant also develops an affection for Laura’s whole family. When the time comes for Lieutenant Howard and Captain Hewson to return to the war, Laura is heartbroken and fearful for the safety of both.
The war continues on for another year, and both the Lieutenant and Captain Hewson distinguish themselves in battle. The two men travel back to the Hewson home, where the reunion between Laura and the Lieutenant confirms the happiness of their future together.