A. J. Cronin
The action takes place in the 1830s. in the small Scottish town of Levenford. In the house of quaint architecture, the project of which James Brodie himself developed, live: the elder mother of the head of the family, whose only entertainment is food, his wife Margaret, the exhausted woman, the daughter of Nancy (an excellent pupil, whose father is a great future) and Mary (brave and a determined girl forced to drop her education to help her mother around the house), the son of Matthew, whom his father intends to send to India, and the master himself. James Brody, the owner of the hat shop, enjoys fame and influence in the city, mainly thanks to his rich clients. This is a cruel and domineering person, despising all whom he considers to be lower than himself. He is strict with domestic people, and sometimes even cruel. So, he forbade Mary to go to the annual fair – he became aware of her meetings with Denis Foyle, an Irishman by birth and a traveling salesman of one of the trading firms, and he wants to put an end to this acquaintance. However, in violation of his ban, Mary still goes to the fair. There, they with Denis ride on the carousel, watch the performance in the fairground show, and then go to the river bank. Enchanted by the young beauty of Mary, Denis seizes it, and the innocent girl does not even understand what really happened. Filled with passion, the young man proposes to her. However, both understand that soon it is
Mary is desperate – she is on the verge of suicide and is ready to take poison, when she suddenly receives a note from Denis, in which he writes that he has already rented a small house and they will soon be able to move there. Then Mary throws out the poison, but feels that something strange is happening to her. She has an intolerable stomachache. She hides from the house in her room, but suddenly her mother comes to her. The woman first noticed the swollen belly of her daughter and understands everything. In vain, Mary asks her not to say anything to her father – raised in hypocrisy morality and scared to death by her husband, Mrs. Brody gives out her daughter. Brody struggles to hold back the unfortunate Mary, but in the end she simply throws her out into the street.
In the courtyard night, a storm; the wind howls, the lightning flashes. Mary, in one dress, wanders through the forest. After a long wanderings in the forest, she finally leaves the river, but unexpectedly stumbles and falls into the water. Miraculously, she manages to escape, but she immediately falls into the swamp, barely seeing the light of the house. In the end, Mary gets out on a level place and hardly wanders to the house. She is afraid of people, so she climbs into the barn, where she produces a boy.
Accidentally, the mistress enters the shed and finds Mary, who has lost consciousness. She calls the doctor, and the unfortunate girl is taken to the nearest hospital.
Meanwhile, Denis is on a firm mission to a remote Scottish town. When his train passes a wobbly, half-rotten bridge, the supports do not stand, and the train falls into the abyss. Denis dies.
Some time later, Brody has a conversation with the famous urban gossip Grierson, from which he learns that the child Mary died in the hospital. Dr. Renwick took great part in the fate of Mary; Her parents helped her settle in London as a servant. But Brody does not seem to care: he denied his daughter and does not want to hear about her, despite the misfortune that befell her. With gloating, he thinks about the death of Foyle.
Soon, Brody learns that in the near future next to his store will open a store of a large haberdashery firm “Manjo and K”, which will also sell hats. Brody’s broker Peter Perry suggests the owner to innovate in the trade, but he keeps self-confident and does not want to hear anything. However, the design of the neighbors showcase, beautiful mannequins and other publicity stunts make the Manjo shop a serious competitor, and soon all Brody clients go there. To top it off, Perry also goes there, disappointed by the boring, uninteresting work of the rough and ungrateful Brody. And although Brody’s financial position has greatly deteriorated, he continues to be rude to customers. His business is getting worse and worse.
But Brody’s main troubles are yet to come. At home, he learns that Matthew is ahead of time from India. There are rumors in the city that he does not do it of his own free will – he was fired for his bad work. Soon, Margaret Brody receives a telegram from his son, where he asks him to send him forty pounds. The fact is that for eight months he sent his mother five pounds to keep them, but because of the difficult financial situation of the family, she spent this money. To get forty pounds, she has to turn to moneylenders, and they give her money at a high interest. Unhappy woman denies herself everything, with difficulty paying interest, and dries on the eyes.
Matthew returns. He changed a lot; sleeps until noon, dines in the city, extorts money from his mother, and when he can not receive them, he steals a family clock. It turns out that he does not behave better with the bride Agnes. After talking with her, Margaret has an attack of a disease that has been torturing her for a long time.
Having won a large sum of money in a pool, Mat goes to a brothel. Bursting into a room, he meets a pretty girl there and begins to pester her, when Brody suddenly appears. A girl named Nancy, the waitress of one of the city cafes, is waiting for him. A fight is tied up; Mat shoots at his father, but misses.
In the meantime, Mrs. Brody’s intolerable pain begins. The doctor makes the diagnosis: cancer. She has only six months to live. She suggests writing Mary to come to house, but Brody objected sharply.
After a while, Brody realizes that he is completely ruined. Upon learning of this, Margaret Brody dies.
To feed his family, Brody comes in as a bookkeeper to the shipyard of the local rich man Sir John Lath. He introduces Nancy into the house as a housekeeper, but she is not able to manage the farming as the late Mrs. Brody did. In addition, she wants to marry and is unhappy with her current situation. The house is in disarray. Brody drinks, and Nancy begins to pay more attention to Matthew. He reciprocates her, and she hopes that he will marry her.
Seeing the complete collapse of her career, Brody now holds all the hopes for her youngest daughter, forcing her to work hard to get a university scholarship. Exhausted by malnutrition and constant occupation, Nessie writes to Mary, begging her to return.
Soon a letter comes from Mary, where she asks Father for forgiveness. He was about to write a sharp response, when he suddenly found out that Nancy had fled with Matt to South America. He has no choice but to agree to the arrival of his eldest daughter.
After a four-year absence, Mary returns to Leavenford. Concerned about her sister’s condition, she turns to Dr. Renwick, who once saved her life. He gladly comes to her rescue – he has long been secretly in love with her. As though casually having examined Nessie, the doctor finds at the girl strong nervous exhaustion.
However, Brody does not allow her daughter to rest: everything is now subordinated to the struggle for a scholarship in the house. For fear of his father, Nessie is afraid to admit that she is not feeling well and continues to work hard. However, she does not get a scholarship. Learning about this, Nessie goes mad and in the fix of despair hangs.
Returning home, Mary discovers her sister in a loop and calls Dr. Renwick. He realizes that Mary should be taken away from this house as soon as possible. He confesses to her in love and makes an offer. They fall into each other’s arms.
At this point, returns from Brody’s work. He blames the doctor and Mary for adultery, but the doctor points out to him the fragile body of Nessie. “Nessie hanged herself because she did not receive a scholarship, and you are the culprit for her death,” he says, after which he and Mary forever leave this house, and then Brody realizes the horror of his situation: he realizes that he was left alone with a half-mad mother, which, like everyone else, is afraid to death of him.