It is 1899. England is fighting the Boers, Queen Victoria's reign will soon be over and change is in the air. A young girl from Devon, Phoebe Drewitt, has escaped her brutal father and a hard life on Dartmoor, her head full of dreams. She is rescued by the reclusive, middle-aged Kendall Bartholomew, whose motives may not be as innocent as they appear.
For Arnold Randolph-Smythe, shop-keeper and upstanding citizen of Barlton, life is more than satisfactory. His shop is successful and his daughter adores him, though his rich wife does not. When Dulcie, his wife, meets Phoebe she invites her to their home. The arguments, hatreds and loves that follow have profound repercussions for all involved.