Rachel Smedling is not like the other women in her isolated Pennine village: she is taller, stronger and weaves cloth like a man. Without her, the household would fall apart, for her mother is ailing and her vicious drunkard father seems to hate her so much, he would happily offer money to any man who would wed her.
When her mother dies, Rachel is at the mercy of her increasingly violent father. Her only escape is by marrying a kindly man with whom she finds happiness, if not passion, and her life begins to seem complete. Rachel's growing prosperity infuriates her father and his cronies, however, and they will stop at nothing to see her destroyed.