Grace Aitken's life changed forever when her parents were killed in a carriage accident in a London street. At the age of twelve, she became the ward of her father’s business partner, Angus MacKinnon and attended the North London Collegiate School in Camden, London, run by Miss Frances Buss. The school gave her a well-rounded progressive education, unusual for Victorian girls, yet with her home life so restrictive, Grace always wondered why her guardians allowed it.
When Grace was seventeen, her pious father-in-law convinced her that she owed him a debt of gratitude which could be expunged by marrying his son, Frederick. Grace discovered a brotherly friendship with her husband, whose delicate health after five years of marriage culminated in his contracting pneumonia, although their childlessness was a fault placed squarely at Grace’s door.
At twenty-three and a widow, her in-laws assumed Grace would take on the role of dependent housekeeper and nurse, especially to her semi-invalid mother-in-law; a condition Grace suspects she has chosen.
The MacKinnons, including Angus' sisters, heap criticism on Grace for her ‘wicked ways’, which are no more outrageous than going for walks in the village without a maid, or reading a Women’s Suffrage pamphlet.
Conversation in the MacKinnon's Hampstead Heath mansion tended to be stilted and unenlightened - books and newspapers were not for general consumption and society restricted to church services and an occasional tea party with her in-law's like-minded acquaintances.
Several weeks after her husband's death, Grace finds a solicitor's letter hidden amongst Frederick's belongings which details the inheritance her parents left in trust for her until her 21st Birthday.
Beneath the guise of running an errand, Grace visits the solicitor’s office where she discovers she is not poor and dependent upon her in-laws after all. Her rebellious side emerges and she makes a bid for freedom by booking passage for Halifax Nova Scotia, Canada on the SS Parisian and a new life far away from England and everything she knows.