At the start of The Good Comrade, the Polkington family has fallen on hard times... actually, that implies a sudden calamity; it would be more accurate to say that they gradually and steadily slid into penury. There are several reasons for this, most of them involving the nominal head of the family, Captain Polkington. A weak and ineffectual man with a taste for drinking and gambling- and a head for neither- he was a failure in the military and, having left it, an even bigger failure in civilian life. The situation isn't helped by his wife, who fancies herself a society hostess though the family is precariously teetering on the fine line between middle and upper class. The family, which includes three daughters, has managed to keep up at least the pretense of respectability by staying one step ahead of their creditors, making minimum payments on their bills, and sponging off wealthier relatives.
One fateful night, Julia is keeping Johnny Gillat company as he waits for the return of Captain Polkington. Johnny is an old friend of her father's from the days when they were both better off financially. Although none too bright, he is a faithful friend, though the Captain does little to deserve such loyalty. Johnny is also very fond of Julia because she, unlike the rest of the family, will actually talk to him. When Captain Polkington arrives, he is inebriated and in despair. It turns out that, in possession of the cheque containing the family's income for the next three months, he had a few drinks and then thought it was a good idea to visit the racetrack. There, he proceeded to bet- and lose- the entire sum and having done so, borrowed more money from a young man- a Mister Rawson-Clew- and lost that as well.
In the meantime, Julia has to come up with a way to keep the family from complete financial ruin; the rest of the family has no concept of saving money or living within their means. She convinces her mother that Violet must go live in Bath in the months before the wedding, as it is much cheaper there. She also arranges to have Cherie accompany a wealthy elderly relative to Europe as a companion. Johnny Gillat also comes to live with them, even his meager rent making a difference. Mrs. Polkington puts a positive spin on all this to her society friends- by lying to them. Violet is going to Bath to nurse an elderly relative back to health. Cherie is enjoying a tour of Europe, and Captain Polkington's old army buddy has come for an extended visit. Oh yes, and they've had to let the maid go... it's so hard to get good help these days. These measures have kept the Polkington's heads above water, just barely. But what keeps nagging at Julia's mind is the debt to Rawson-Clew. No amount of pinching pennies will produce the necessary funds to repay the money which her father borrowed.