Lily Ramsay, age twenty-two, is the ward of her dour uncle, Sir Robert Ramsay. Sir Robert will leave her his fortune, but only if she is obedient in every way. When she falls in love with a poor barrister, Ronald Lumsden, Sir Robert not only disapproves of Ronald, but sends Lily away from Edinburgh to a lonely Highland moor where he has an old house, Dalrugas. Lily, who cares nothing for the money, at first has faith that Ronald will simply marry her and take her to live in a garret somewhere. But Ronald is far too prudent for that. With his eye on Sir Robert's fortune, he counsels patience.
When Ronald at last has a plan for their marriage, the trusting Lily believes it will be followed by his taking her away to a new home. Several important events follow, including one which is devastating. Yet Lily still has some hope to cling to.
Biographical and other notes
This novel takes place in the 1830s. The moor in the story is based on Rannoch Moor; and the coach stop's fictional name of "Kinloch Rugas" is based on the real village of Kinloch Rannoch which was a coach stop in those days.
Included in the Themes listed below is the theme "Scotch marriages". On the surface, since Lily is married by a minister, it would not appear that her marriage is a private, or "Scotch", marriage. However the minister is indeed conducting a private marriage based solely on the presence of two witnesses, and is well aware that he could be "subject to censure by the Presbytery" for conducting this secret marriage.