When Bess Heath returns to her family home near the picturesque falls, it is to an unfamiliar scene - the elegance of the life she once knew has vanished. Her father is a broken man, jobless and losing hope, and her mother is struggling to keep the family afloat. Isabel, the lively, charismatic sister Bess has always relied on is almost unrecognisable. Her engagement called off, she languishes in her bedroom, brooding and refusing to eat.
Through all of this Bess finds solace in Tom Cole, a man she met by chance the night she returned home. Constant, gentle and devoted to Bess, he understands better than anyone the awesome and potentially devastating power of the falls - and consoles her through a tragedy that nearly ruins her. But as their lives become more fully entwined, Bess is forced to make a painful choice between what she wants and what is best for her family . . .