Young Hester Mallow, a jeweler's daughter in Wickborough in 1780, is perturbed by a strange man who keeps watching the shop--and more than perturbed when she finds him done to death by the neighborhood bad guys at the river bank. She is not strong enough to retrieve him, but as he sinks beneath the waves, he leaves an antique watch in her hand. Hester--who is preoccupied with thoughts of her soon-to-be-maybe fiancÃ‰, divinity student Julian Windross--tucks the watch away and forgets it until her sister Louise reappears after many years' absence. Louise is a great and fragile beauty whom everyone wishes to love and care for. Especially men. Especially Julian. Louise appears to have some connection with the antique watch, and thereby hangs a tale--but the tale is less interesting than Louise herself, a beautiful, stupid, completely withdrawn and amoral creature with no sense of the social bond: a sort of Georgian Bad Seed. Odd stuff but intriguing.