Herminia Barton, the Cambridge-educated daughter of a clergyman, frees herself from her parents' influence, moves to London and starts living alone. As she is not a woman of independent means, she starts working as a teacher. When she meets and falls in love with Alan Merrick, a lawyer, she suggests they live together without getting married. Reluctantly, he agrees, and the couple move to Italy. There, in Florence, Merrick dies of typhoid before their daughter Dolores is born. Legal technicalities and the fact that the couple were not married prevent Herminia from inheriting any of Merrick's money.