Young Jeannie spends her days watching her mother and the other harbour girls sitting at the water's edge - mending nets, gutting herring - and waiting for her friend Ethan Wharton to come in on his father's fishing smack.
As she was growing up, Jeannie always expected to marry Ethan, who is loyal and dependable. But then she meets Harry - a stranger who has come to visit from Hull for the day - and she falls for him. He is exciting and irresistible, and seems very keen on her. But he breaks his promise to come back for her, and Jeannie finds herself young, pregnant and feeling very isolated.
Jeannie moves to the port town of Hull where her new, difficult life with a child - touched by illness, tragedy and poverty - is often made bearable by the kindness of others. But she finds herself wishing for the simpler times of her past, wondering if she will ever find someone who will truly love her - and if Ethan will ever forgive her...