Mabel Pervin is 27 years old, unmarried, and described as plain and sullen-looking. At the beginning of the story, she appears unmoved by the sale of the family estate and horses. She answers little or nothing as her brothers question her about what she intends to do and suggest plans for her. Mabel has been caring for the house and family for 10 years. Before her father died, she felt secure and took pride in caring for the house because the family had servants and money. However, she had no friends and the only visitors were coarse men and women with bad reputations. She has suffered in the last few months after her father's death and as the family fortune dwindled. Mabel, however, has a strength of character that is not apparent at first. Her brothers basically decide her future for her, but Mabel has her own ideas. She finds her own way out of the unhappy drudgery of her existence by attempting to commit suicide and joining her mother in the world of death. She moves powerfully toward her salvation—first in attempting suicide then in marriage with Jack Fergusson. It may be this strength of character that both repels and attracts Fergusson. In the story she starts out as quiet and apathetic but ends up being an assertive woman.
Dr. Jack Fergusson
Dr. Jack Fergusson is the local doctor. He is more educated than most people in the mining town. He will miss the Pervin brothers when they lose their house and move from town. Fergusson does not have many friends and he is bored and unsatisfied with life in the countryside. He finds the town ugly and his work among the miners and ironworkers a drudgery. At the same time he is excited by his contact with the working-class people and has a craving for it. Fergusson, like Mabel, undergoes a transformation from the beginning of the story to the end. He is lonely and unhappy at the beginning. Mabel makes him uncomfortable, yet he finds himself watching her, spellbound. When he rescues Mabel from drowning, he does so only as a doctor and not because he cares for her. By the end of the story, he has declared his love for Mabel and his intention to marry her. He changes from a bored and lonely young man who feels better than most of the people in the town to a man who intends to marry the daughter of an uneducated horse dealer.