Lily Crawford and Jeanie Taylor, from very different backgrounds, are firm friends from their childhoods in Kirkcudbright. They share their ambitions for their futures, Lily to be an artist, Jeanie to be a dancer. The two women's eventful lives are intertwined. The girls lose touch when Jeanie flees domestic abuse and joins a dance company, while Lily attends The Mack, Glasgow's famous school of art designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. A chance meeting brings them back together and they discover a city at the height of its wealth and power as the Second City of the Empire - and a city of poverty and overcrowding. An intense love affair with fellow artist Jack Petrie is shattered by World War I. Lily is broken hearted when she learns of his death at the front. Grieving, she marries urban missionary Hugh Anderson, who works with the city's desperate poor, and moves to China with him.