Eliza Forester is left motherless at the tender age of three when her father orders his wife from the house, accusing her of infidelity. He keeps the child, not out of love, but to spite his wife, and Eliza grows up believing her mother is dead. Her happiest times are spent with Ruby and Jerome, the children of tenant farmers on her father's estate. When, at 16, Eliza's innocent friendship with Jerome turns to love, Eliza--like her mother--is banished to London to live with her aunt. Her father, determined she will make a "good" match, lies to her that Jerome has married, and forces her to wed aristocratic, dissolute Hedworth Lambton. It is the greatest mistake of her life.