The hero is John Grange, a young gardener on Mrs. Mostyn's estate, who finds himself to be in love with Mary Ellis, the daughter of the bailiff, James Ellis. But as he is no more than an under-gardener Ellis is angry with him for even thinking of Mary.There is an accident when John has ascended a large cedar tree that had lost a bough in a gale, and a broken branch needed to be tidied up. John falls from where he was sawing, onto the ground, landing on his head. He recovers from the concussion, but is now blind.His rival not only for Mary's hand but also for promotion to Head Gardener when Dunton, the present Head Gardener, now very old, dies, is Daniel Barnett, who of course gets the job. But he is a nasty man, not very good at his work, while the blind John can do his work almost as well as before, working by touch. Barnett plays a number of most unkind tricks on his rival John. Eventually John disappears without trace and rumour is rife that Daniel Barnett had made away with him, so that he might have a clear run to Mary's hand--not that Mary is interested in him.
is fellow-worker's accident, certain thoughts would intrude relating to his own prospects if John Grange were not at The Hollows.
They hurried down to the grounds, mother and daughter watching from the window, and in those few minutes a great change came over Mary Ellis's face. It was as if it rapidly altered from that of the happy, careless girl, who went singing about the house, to the thoughtful, anxious woman. Even her way of speaking was different, as she turned quickly upon her mother.
"What was father so angry about last night?" she said. "Did he have a quarrel with poor Mr Grange?"
"Well, hardly a quarrel, my dear. Oh, it was nothing."
"But he said he was sorry he spoke so harshly to him. Mother, you are keeping something back."
"Well, well, well, my darling, nothing much; only young men will be young men; and father was put out by his vanity and conceit. He actually got talking to father about you."
"About me?" said Mary, flushing, and beginning to tremble.