Sub-titled "Two Chapters from an Autobiography," this tale written in the first person is somewhat reminiscent of Jane Eyre. Esther, orphaned at a young age with only her sister, Rachel, to care for her, continues to live with her after Rachel's marriage to Mr. Morton. Devoted to Rachel she finds herself consumed with jealousy at the marriage and even more so at the subsequent birth of Rachel's son. Rachel dies shortly thereafter, her husband decides to sell the house and go abroad because he, too, is ail ing. He arranges for Esther to live with his brother while he goes abroad.
Her brother-in-law, not thinking of her feelings in the matter, demands that she make the house ready to be sold, fully furnished. He does not even give her any of her sister's things. Rachel, sullen, cold, and grieving, shows the house to many prospectiv e buyers, hardly noticing them. The only person to show any kindness or understanding to her is the purchaser, whom she never actually looks at, but who, finding her sobbing at the last night of parting from her sister's room, arranges a carriage for her to take her to the Morton's, they having unaccountably "forgotten" to send one at the appointed time.
She finds the Morton household an unloving one. While she knows she should be thankful to have a home she cannot accept her lot. She is devoted to Lawrence and finds herself in the role of governess to him but shuns the family as they shun her. Realizing
that she has not been invited to join the family circle in the evenings, Mr. Morton commands that she does so.
Here she is aloof as she watches the frivolity of Mrs. Morton, Miss Morton, and their steady stream of social and shallow guests.
One guest, however, seems far above the others in intelligence and seriousness. However, as Miss Morton takes care to introduce Esther to Mr, Chalnor as the governess, Esther assumes this gentleman's later courtesy is simply as a gentleman would treat a m enial.
When her brother-in-law dies before returning home and without making a will, Mr. Morton arranges for his family to live abroad, for Lawrence to live in the country and for Esther, nothing. Facing destitution and utter despair she is surprised to find tha t Mr. Chalnor is not only interested in her, he wishes to marry her and provide a home for Lawrence. Not only that, he is the purchaser of her former home, the one who showed her kindness, and who has kept all her sister's things intact, bringing her home to them on the day they marry.
The first person stance proves powerful in this story, allowing Neal to explore beyond the stereotypical woman's role into a darker, less self
sacrificing character who, despite her bitterness, or perhaps because of it, is compelling..