It is a parody of the formula melodrama, in which an innocent young woman is romanced by a strong upright young man and menaced by a Dastardly Whiplash villain, and everything turns out all right in the end.
Ethyl Ermengarde Stubbs, who isn't as simple as she makes out, is romanced by poor but honest Jack Manly and menaced by the wicked 'Squire Hardman. There's a kidnapping, an elopement, a poor woman alone and friendless on the streets of the heartless big city, and many other dangers, but it all comes right in the end (for Ermengarde, if not necessarily for anyone else).
This story contains examples of:
- And Now You Must Marry Me: 'Squire Hardman attempts to force Ermengarde to marry him. In the end, she forces him to marry her.
- Awesome Mc Coolname: Jack Manly and 'Squire Hardman.
- Awful Wedded Life: 'Squire Hardman is defeated and married at the end, in that order, with the marriage being described as "the last terrible punishment".
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Ermengarde is presented as being innocent but is really a vain amoral sociopath and attempted murderer.
- Cheating with the Milkman: One of Ermengarde's false suitors goes off after her rejection and marries the woman he really loves, only for her to "run away with the milkman and all the money in the house".
- Childhood Friend Romance: Jack Manly and Ermengarde have loved each other since they were at school together.
- Complexity Addiction: 'Squire Hardman threatens to foreclose on Farmer Stubbs's mortgage in order to force Ermengarde to marry him in order to get his hands on Farmer Stubbs's land. About halfway through the story he suddenly realizes that since it's the land he really wants, he can just go ahead and foreclose, and leave Ermengarde out of it.
- Dastardly Whiplash: 'Squire Hardman is the cliché with all the knobs turned up until they fall off. He is rich and elderly, dark and cruelly handsome, carries a riding crop, and has a moustache which he twirls viciously. When in a bad mood, he kicks an "unquestionably innocent" cat to relieve his feelings - while twirling his moustache and his riding crop, an impressive feat of dexterity if nothing else. His favorite pastimes are gnashing his teeth and swishing his riding crop. And, of course, he has a mortgage on the Stubbs farm and threatens to foreclose if he doesn't get the girl.
- Destination Defenestration: At one point, Ermengarde defends her virtue by pushing a man out the window — of a moving train. (He reappears again later at a dramatically appropriate moment, prompting the narrator to remark: "He had survived—this much was almost immediately evident.")
- Either/Or Title: The full title is given as "Sweet Ermengarde, or, The Heart of a Country Girl".
- Elopement: Algernon Reginald Jones persuades Ermengarde to elope with him, but she discerns his true nature before they actually get married.
- Gold Digger: With the exception of Jack Manly, who ends up falling in love with someone else anyway, every man who seeks to marry Ermengarde is said to be at least as interested in her father's land and business as in her personal attractions.
- In the end even Ermengarde herself is one of these.
- Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Ermengarde, supposedly, but it's a running gag that the hair of gold comes out of a bottle, and her heart isn't as sweet and innocent as she makes out either.
- Hillbilly Moonshiner: Hiram Stubbs, Ermengarde's father.
- Just in Time: After many incidents, Ermengarde and Jack, traveling separately and in at least one case without any apparent effort, both arrive back at the farm just as 'Squire Hardman is about kick Ermengarde's parents out.
- Kick the Dog: When he discovers that he has Jack Manly as a rival for Ermengarde's hand, 'Squire Hardman relieves his feelings by kicking an "unquestionably innocent" cat.
- Long-Lost Relative: Ermengarde, alone in the big city, meets a rich elderly woman who takes her in because she reminds her of her long-lost daughter. Sure enough, it turns out at the end that Ermengarde is the long-lost daughter.
- Ludicrous Precision: Ermengarde is 5 feet 5.33... inches tall and weighs 115.47 lb. Approximately.
- Melodrama: Parodied.
- Morally Bankrupt Banker: 'Squire Hardman has the mortgage on Hiram Stubbs's farm, and threatens to foreclose if he doesn't get his way.
- Names to Trust Immediately: Jack Manly.
- Nominal Hero: Jack Manly. The story even includes a scene where the good guys nearly give in to despair until "suddenly Jack remembered he was the hero". He turns out to be completely useless in the end, though.
- Obviously Evil: 'Squire Hardman, a full-on moustache-twirler with a statue of Satan on his mantelpiece.
- Parody Sue: Ermengarde Stubbs, sweet sixteen (she claims), whose hair is golden (she dyes it), whose complexion is "beautiful but inexpensive", and who is beloved by every eligible bachelor in the district (because she's the heir to her father's land). Under her fluffy innocent exterior she has a ruthless pragmatic streak that shows at occasional moments, and she turns the tables on the villain in the end.
- Pyrrhic Villainy: Hardman technically wins as he gets both things he was after but in the worst way possible.
- Preppy Name: Algernon Reginald Jones.
- Pronoun Trouble: Invoked for laughs.But these tender passages, sacred though their fervour, did not pass unobserved by profane eyes; for crouched in the bushes and gritting his teeth was the dastardly 'Squire Hardman! When the lovers had finally strolled away he leapt out into the lane, viciously twirling his moustache and riding-crop, and kicking an unquestionably innocent cat who was also out strolling.
"Curses!" he cried — Hardman, not the cat — "I am foiled in my plot to get the farm and the girl!"
- Rags to Riches: Parodied.
- Jack Manly sets out to seek his fortune so he can save the Stubbs farm, and fails completely, returning at the end looking "worn and seedy" and approaching 'Squire Hardman for a loan.
- Ermengarde is adopted near the end by a wealthy old woman who is impressed by her honesty in returning the old woman's lost purse. (After, the narrator notes, having looked inside and found it didn't contain anything worth stealing.) She also inherits her father's land and gains control of 'Squire Hardman's fortune by marrying him.
- Rich Suitor, Poor Suitor: To start with, Ermengarde's main suitors are the rich and evil 'Squire Hardman and the poor and honest Jack Manly. Later, 'Squire Hardman drops out of the race but his place is taken by the city sophisticate Algernon Reginald Jones.
- Running Gag: Ermengarde claiming to be only sixteen when she's actually pushing thirty.
- Sophisticated as Hell: One source of humour in the story is the narrator and the characters switching without warning between high-flown melodramatic speech and 1920s colloquial speech.