Jess is the tale of two sisters coping with a rebel warrior capable of mobilizing one of the two nations colonizing South Africa, all for the love of a woman who Spurns him. Jess, as the intellectual other sister, casts herself in the martyr role so that the family of her more ordinary sister can survive. The historical setting favors the English over the Belgians. The story takes place during the time of the first Boer War, in 1880-81. Captain John Niel comes to work on the Transvaal farm of a fellow Englishman, Silas Croft, and becomes involved in a love triangle of sorts with Croft's two nieces. One of them, Bessie, is a pretty, hardworking blond; the other, Jess, is plainer looking, intellectual, and deep thinking. Niel becomes engaged to Bessie, but after being trapped with Jess in the siege at Pretoria, realizes that he is in love with her.