David Sheldon, having left home at 16 to escape his evil sister-in-law, Mildred, makes his fortune in America. He survives the Civil War but then suffers a terrible tragedy and he decides to return home to Derbyshire. There, in the spring of 1871, David discovers that his brother, Alexander, is dead and the family estate, which he inherits, is in decline. In London, without considering the consequences of his actions, he takes on three orphaned children. David rescues his niece, Jennifer, from her mothers ill treatment of her and he then banishes his sister-in-law, Mildred, from the Manor, after she has bullied his , just as she used to bully him.David dismisses the estate steward who then plots to get his revenge. The ex-stewards hatred results in a violent burglary of the Manor House and then attempts on the lives of both his niece and Emily who is Davids new found love.Davids actions in assisting the son of a powerful, neighbouring landowner puts him at odds with the man.Emily Hughes, has been largely brought up with her friend Jennifer Sheldon at the insistence of Davids brother Alexander. But, with his death, Jennifers mother, banishes Emily from the house and Emily goes to live with her parents, losing both her position in society and the companionship of Jennifer. David restores Emily to both and she is attracted to him in spite of his revelations about his violent and amorous American way of life. However, she turns against him when he seeks to manipulate her with his wealth.David falls in love with Emily but a secret from his past puts in jeopardy his hopes of marriage and happiness.