In 1814 a young English officer stationed in Canada marries a local girl. After Indian attacks each believes the other dead. The wife bears a daughter, Hester, and later remarries. Her first husband, recovering from his wounds, returns to England, inherits an earldom and, believing he to be a widower, marries a lady of good family by whom he has two sons and two daughters, the elder of who, Ursula, narrates the story. Many years after his second wife's death the earl marries for e third time, but his young wife dies in childbirth, leaving her sickly baby son, Alured, to Ursula's care. Meanwhile in Canada Hester, having been given a good education, has married an American farmer. Chance reveals her real rank, and after the death of her mother and the birth of her son she is determined to go to England and claim her rights. In this she is opposed by her husband, but encouraged by a crafty lawyer. When she arrives the shock proves fatal to her father, but to her disappointment, her son is not the successor, for the third marriage took place after her mother's death, so little Alured is legitimate, and the new earl. There is now a reversal of situation. Lady Hester is now rich, having inherited half the earl's fortune. The four children of the second marriage now impoverished as well as illegitimate turn to farming. The younger brother immigrates to New Zealand, the elder takes over a farm near his old home, and as guardian of little Alured manages the estate. Ursula and her sister share this farmhouse life. The elder brother's engagement is broken off by the girl's worldly mother, and Ursula rejects her own suitor in pride and self-will.