Although Madeleine Bates and Sophia Parkinson were both eighteen years old, the contrast between their two lives could not have been greater. Sophia, spoilt pretty daughter of Helsdon's richest mill owner, lived a life of petted indulgence at Mount Royd, the Parkinson home. Madeleine - daughter of a tyrannical and bigoted father who worked in the Parkinson mill - spent her time either at chapel, or working a fourteen hour day as housemaid at Mount Royd, a victim of Sophia's whims and occasional spitefulness. But Madeleine - who beneath her obedient and dutiful exterior was volatile, strong-willed, and rebellious - was not the kind of young woman you could overlook, and when Leon Bonneau - younger son of a French wool baron - came to stay at Mount Royd he was, against his own inclinations, startled into noticing the dignity and beauty of the young housemaid. From that moment on the lives of everyone at Mount Royd began to change, and Madeleine stepped forward into a new and challenging future.