The story begins in 1858 in South Carolina. William Taylor's cousin Allen is visiting from Connecticut. Secession "fever" is rapidly engulfing the state. The scene shifts to West Point where the cousins have been accepted as cadets. William finds the "politics of the day" there to be "slavery and sectionalism." Politics continue to be the topic of the summer of 1860, and the story is again picked up when Allen and William attend a reception where a number of prominent South Carolina politicos are gathered discussing how secession should occur. Returning to West Point in the fall of 1860, Allen realizes the situation in South Carolina is rapidly moving toward secession and knows that he will soon be forced to make a decision concerning his position at West Point.