Who is the man without a memory?
When their father, the Rector, dies Elinor and her elder sister Jane Darwen are left with very little money. But Jane is betrothed to wealthy Edmund, Viscount Tremaine, whose estate is near their village. Then Napoleon escapes from Elba and Edmund returns to his regiment in Belgium, while his bailiff Jonah lets the girls and their old nurse Mattie live in an estate cottage. Elinor bakes bread and pies and Jane sews nightcaps, which they sell through village shops, and Mattie does laundry, so they make a modest living. Then after the battle news arrives of Edmund's death. His cousin William inherits the title, and comes to live at Tremaine Court with his mother and sister Amelia. Edmund's mother goes to live with a sister, Mrs Augusta Hunt, in Truro and Jane soon entices William into marriage.
Meanwhile Gervaas, a Belgian peasant helping to bury the dead after Waterloo, finds a live body and hopes to gain a reward by caring for him. Unfortunately the man has lost his memory, and doesn't know if he is French, English or Prussian. He remains at the farm, helping Gervaas, but only odd fragments of memory return.