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: The orphaned Emily Brown and her best friend Cecilia Wyvil attend Miss Ladd's school for young ladies. The date is 1881. On the last day before the summer holidays, Emily and Cecilia are joined by the rich but unattractive Francine de Sor. She has been sent to England by her parents in the West Indies to improve her education. On the same day, a recently employed teacher, Sarah Jethro, is dismissed when her references are discovered to be forged. In saying goodbye, she reveals that she had once known Emily's father but refuses to elaborate. Another teacher at the school is Alban Morris, a drawing master in love with Emily. Emily's only relative is her father's impoverished sister, Letitia, and Emily must therefore earn her own living. With the help of Cecilia she has secured a position in Northumberland as secretary to Sir Jervis Redwood.