Wealthy 87-year-old spinster Janet Souter takes pleasure in raking up scandal about her neighbours. She also relishes refusing her two nephews the money they desperately need to bolster their struggling businesses. So when she acquires some arsenic to deal with rats in her garden, she decides to test them: whichever attempts to kill her will be her sole beneficiary; if both do, they will each get a half share of her substantial savings.
Young Marion Cheyne comes from a humble background, but her heart of is full of ambition. Stealing gold sovereigns from her employer, she sets off for Aberdeen and changes her name to Marianne. Fortune smiles, and a dream she thought impossible is fulfilled when she marries the heir of Castle Lyall. Marianne understands it is a business arrangement, and life as lady of the glen suits her. Through the trials and triumphs of two world wars, Marianne will stop at nothing to guard her hard-won position.
After her father's death, 10-year-old Renee and her mother are forced to take in two lodgers. Renee grows up weaving romantic fantasies around them, firstly the dependable Jack and later the charming Fergus. He cements her obsession with him by seducing her, then breaking her heart. With the advent of the Second World War, Renee is thrown into further turmoil as the two men are sent into action, leaving her to a whirlwind of RAF sergeants stationed in the area.
Willie's headmaster recognises his potential and finances his matriculation at University along with his daughter, Millie. Within weeks of the outbreak of war, Willie's oldest friend enlists in the army. Implored to sign up with him, Willie feels duty-bound to his sponsor to finish his degree and turns him down. Two years later, news arrives announcing that his friend has been killed in action. Racked with guilt, Willie abandons his education and volunteers for the Gordon Highlanders.