The Nethercombe rhododendrons were Gussie’s pride and joy
A chance meeting with Augusta Merton in a teashop in Bristol results in the beautiful Nell Woodward being invited to spend Christmas in a country house owned by one of Gussie’s relatives, Henry Morley. His family have owned Nethercombe Estate, on the southern slopes of Dartmoor near South Brent, since the sixteenth century. Over the years farms and cottage have been sold, most lately when Henry’s father died and the tax man came to call. Even so, there is the lovely old house, home farm, run by a tenant who is also a friend, and a group of stables and coach houses that Henry is busy converting into a development, the eponymous courtyard.
Gillian, Henry’s wife, as always desperate for money, is trying to find an investor in a development being planned by her lover, Sam Whittaker, introduced to her by the architect working with Henry on this courtyard development. Meanwhile, Nell’s ex-naval husband John - now running a failing estate agency - is also desperate for cash.
Over Christmas Gilian shows John the possibility of good returns and so he takes out a loan against a property he has just inherited and gives the proceeds to Sam. Unknown to Gillian, Sam is a crook and Nell’s life is turned upside down when her husband, unable to accept that he has lost everything, kills himself.
It is Gussie who persuades Henry to offer Nell and her son sanctuary at Nethercombe and Gillian’s godmother who finds Nell a job. Gradually the cottages in the courtyard are sold off: one to Guy Webster, Kate’s son, who is running a yacht brokerage and delivery business in Dartmouth.
Much to his own surprise, the undemonstrative Guy finds himself entranced by Nell which closes his eyes to Gemma, Cassandra’s Wivenhoe’s daughter, who is clearly in love with him. Perhaps the fact that they have known each other since early childhood had something to do with it.