After the death of his wife, Hamilton Forsyth scandalises the small Ayrshire town of Saltcoats by departing for pastures unknown. His three adult children are left reeling with shock - and with the family ironmongery shop to run. Walter, son and heir, looks set to manage the business and marry the suitable Clarissa Pinkerton but drops a bombshell on his sisters by saying he's going to marry the housemaid Sarah who is pregnant. Unable to tolerate the housemaid becoming mistress of their house, the girls find there are few choices within their social structure. Reluctantly, Belle moves in with her meddling Aunt Beatrice. Tarred with the brush of her brother's behaviour and thwarted in love, Morna moves down the social scale and into a boarding house. Gradually, she finds her feet, a job as a teacher - and an interest in the suffragette movement. Belle's main interest lies elsewhere - with Samuel Gilmartin, an attractive rogue with a head for business and an eye for the main change. She in turn scandalises society by marrying him...