The heroine, Mary Masters, is the daughter of an attorney, and has been raised as a gentlewoman. Her stepmother is from a lower social order; believing it best for Mary, she pressures her strongly to accept a proposal from Lawrence Twentyman, a prosperous young yeoman farmer with aspirations to gentility. While Mary respects Twentyman for his excellent qualities, she feels that she cannot love him as a wife should a husband. She admires Reginald Morton, whose cousin is the squire of Bragton and thus one of the two major landowners of Rufford. Reginald admires Mary as well; but for most of the novel, each is ignorant of the other's feelings: Mary, as a gentlewoman, cannot take the initiative in such a matter; and Reginald, misinformed that Mary loves another, is unwilling to make an offer and have it rejected.