Elfrida Swann, a struggling portrait painter known to everyone as Freddie, is about to marry Alex Moncrieff, a successful barrister. Preparations for the great day, arranged with magnificent extravagance by her smart stepmother, are on schedule. The bridesmaids¿ bouquets are made up, the cake is decorated, the altar is adorned. Then, two days before the wedding, Freddie ¿ a byword among her friends for common sense and dependability ¿ decides that she cannot go through with it. Unable to face the fury and anguish of Alex, her parents and, it seems, almost everyone she has ever known, Freddie runs away to Drop Cottage in Dorset, lent to her by a friend. At first sight, its state of dilapidation is so extreme that Freddie feels she cannot possibly stay. But events conspire to detain her and rapidly she falls under the spell of its idiosyncratic charms. The attentions of the son of the ¿big house¿, the friendship of the eccentric and beguiling Prim, a family of neglected children, a naked hermit, a clergyman with ¿doubts¿ and the ravishing beauty of the countryside are just some of the elements that combine to reveal to Freddie the truth of her own mind and heart.