The summer in Deauville when Poppy turned twenty-one was a turning point in her life. When her mother discovers that she has been spending time with Ralph, she is openly disapproving. On her birthday she expects to see Ralph or have some note from him, but she is disappointed. The following day she is leaving for England, and to bid the beach farewell, she steps out of the hotel. Ralph appears, and without much preamble, he gives her a document as a present and explains that it is a marriage licence he has got in Paris, and they could get married. Poppy is taken aback but her first instinct is to refuse, but Ralph reminds her that she is now twenty-one and can do whatever she wants. So she stays and leaves her family.
Ralph and Poppy get married, dreaming of a life which will be adventurous and fulfilled. Poppy has three babies in a row: Faith, Jake, and Nicole. They never stay long in a place and travel all the time. Ralph is always followed by friends who Poppy nicknames the lodgers. The only steady point in their lives is La Rouilly, a big house owned by a friend of Ralphs and the family spend every summer there. All of Ralph’s projects flounder, and the family live on the royalties of his novel and Poppy’s annuity. One summer Ralph brings Guy, a young medical student who gave him a lift. From then on Guy becomes a fixture in La Rouilly every summer. Faith, Poppy’s eldest daughter, becomes quite attached to Guy, and as she grows up, she becomes smitten with him.
In 1936 Ralph takes his family to Spain as he has a project with a saffron field. Poppy is horrified because the situation in the village and the house is horrible, and he begs to leave, but Ralph is adamant that this project will bear fruit. Then Poppy falls pregnant, but then she has a child two months before her time, and since they live on an isolate farm, she is only helped by a local old woman. Poppy has a boy, who she names William, but the baby dies. Then she sinks into depression, and even though Ralph begs her to leave, she refuses as she won’t leave the place where her boy is buried. Yet, with the outbreak of the war, Poppy finally relents for her children’s sake.
The summer of 1936 is a turning point. Guy comes to La Rouilly but only stays a few days. He announces that he won’t be returning to La Rouilly again as he has to sort out his late father’s matters and he needs to start his own medical practice, which fills Faith with disappointment. At the same time Poppy is filled with bitterness, and in a way she blames her husband for William’s death. Although she knows that the boy was born too soon, and that is why he died, she can’t help thinking that if Ralph hadn’t insisted on living on that isolated farm, things might have been different. Poppy turns away from him, but then months later she realises that Ralph is flirting with one of the lodgers, Louise. So she has two possibilities: let her marriage go to the dogs, or she can do something. She and Ralph make up, but the novel mentions that it is now that Poppy has grown up.
Another blow comes from Jake, the couple’s second child. One morning they wake up to find a note from Jake, saying that he is going to Spain to fight. Poppy is miserable and Ralph is very angry. Poppy realises that she hasn’t done much for her children’s stability, so she decides that something needs to change. That is why she goes to a convent school to enrol the girls. However, Faith refuses to go and finds a job in a lingerie shop, but Nicole is happy to go.
Some time later they are living in Marseille. Faith is working in a café and receives a letter from someone called Luis. He is a friend of Jake’s, and Luis tells him that Jake is very sick in Argelès. So Faith borrows a car from one of the café regulars and drives to the camp. Jake has the flu, but when she arrives, telling the authorities that she is Jake’s sister and they are the children of some nobleman, he is allowed to go. Jake tells him that Luis has gone to Paris, and that is where he intends to go and Faith should go as well.
As for Guy, he is working hard in his practice. One of his patients is a little boy who he realises need to have his appendix removed, but when he takes him to the hospital, he is turned down because the boy was poor. So he had to go to a charity hospital, and when his appendix is removed, he develops post-surgery infection, so he takes him back to the first hospital and he demands the boy be treated from a doctor, Selwyn Stephens. The physician is impressed by the young doctor’s passion, so he admits the boy. Some days later Dr Stephens invites him to join him and his daughter in a dinner function they are giving. Guy realises that this is not his kind of environment he is used to. When during dinner he states that it is his belief that everybody is entitled to health care, the other guests are not impressed.
At the end of the dinner when he is leaving, the doctor’s daughter, Eleanor, runs after him as he has forgotten his umbrella. She tells him that she has been impressed by his beliefs, and without his presence she would have been bored. Some weeks later Guy runs into Eleanor in the hospital where she is a volunteer. They walk to his house together, and when she sees the mess of his study, she volunteers to help him, and from then on Eleanor goes to his house twice a week, and they also go out together regularly. Guy gradually feels attracted to her, and one day they finally kiss. That day they also talk about Ralph and his family, whose photograph Guy keeps next to his parents’. Guy talks wonders about them, and when he mentions Faith and how perfect she has always seemed to him despite her lack of education, Eleanor feels the seed of jealousy within her even though he tells her that Faith is like a sister to him. Later at home her father hints that she and Guy are spending too much time together, but Eleanor claims that they are just friends. Dr Stephens mentions that even though he admires Guy for his ideals and passion, marrying him will mean slumming it. Eleanor still thinks Guy is just a friend, but deep down she thinks that she will manage to change him and his way of life. I am afraid that Eleanor won’t be good for Guy.