In a world of mill barons and railway kings, two sisters Oriel and Kate share the same uncaring father. But whereas Kate is legitimate, Oriel is not. Oriel learns from an ambitious mother to be cool, to calm the fire in her heart. Kate, with emotions untamed and no mother at all, yearns to break free form her loveless life. Drawn together by fate as well as birth, the two sisters are friends. And then squire Francis Ashington, poet and explorer, comes back to live in the Gore Valley . . .