Rachel Ray is the younger daughter of a lawyer's widow. She lives with her mother and her widowed sister, Dorothea Prime, in a cottage near Exeter in Devon. Mrs. Ray is amiable but weak, unable to make decisions on her own and ruled by her older daughter. Mrs. Prime is a strict and gloomy Evangelical, persuaded that all worldly joys are impediments to salvation. Rachel is courted by Luke Rowan, a young man from London who has inherited an interest in the profitable local brewery. Mrs. Prime suspects his morals and motives, and communicates these suspicions to her mother. Mrs. Ray consults her pastor, the Low Churchman Charles Comfort; and upon his vouching for Rowan, allows Rachel to accept his offer of marriage.