Orphaned twins Nelly and Bertie Brooke lead a simple life with their grandfather and pet mastiff Thug in the rural village of Little Bickton. Bertie’s congenital curvature of the spine has rendered him an invalid, and Nelly is both his companion and factotum, continually sublimating her needs in order to provide for him. The unexpected arrival of their wealthy cousin Nigel suggests an improvement in their prospects, especially when he invites Nelly to stay with his mother in Orpington.
Mrs Brooke is horrified by the rustic Nelly, but is mollified when she discovers her aptitude for baking and needlework. These admirable qualities prompt the decision that Nelly should be her companion, and she is allowed to participate in family life. She is taken to a local hare coursing event and is introduced to the Brookes’ GP, Dr Monkton. Although he is all politeness and attentiveness, Nelly takes an instant dislike to him, and is also alarmed by the terror of the capture animal. The Doctor subsequently invites them to lunch and shows great interest in Bertie, suggesting a number of treatments he might try in order to effect a cure.
A petulant Cousin Nigel taunts Nelly over the Doctor’s ministrations, believing her to be won over by him. Nelly assures him she wants only what’s best for Bertie. Nigel, thus encourages, mentions marriage and steals a kiss, much to the horror of his watching mother. She makes it very clear that Nelly is suitable as a companion, but not as a daughter-in-law. Nelly’s grandfather’s sudden decline necessitates a timely return to Little Bickton. However, the summons from her brother includes that news that recent revelations mean she must sever all relations with Nigel.