On the road between Lampeter and Llandovery, there is a wood. The driver who takes their eyes from the road can see that this is a belt of trees. Inside there is a field, a low wall and a little white farmhouse. Despite that house's existence, it seems that something is missing from the landscape. The stables hard by the farmhouse are too big for it.
Were we to step back a century, we would know why. There is something missing. A great house, Dolaucothi, home of the ancient Johnes family.
But it is not to 1906 we return. No, we travel back another thirty years, to 1876. The house is owned by John Johnes, County Court Judge and Recorder of Carmarthen. He lives there with his two daughters, Miss Bertha Johnes, and his widowed elder daughter, Mrs Cookman. The house has a full staff, having been recently rebuilt to accomodate them. Among these is the butler, an Irishman by the name of Henry Tremble.
Henry is a good butler, but his mind is on other things. He does not intend to remain a butler forever. No, his eye is on the pub in the nearby village of Pumpsaint. He intends to retire and become landlord of that local hostelry. And, he believes, the Judge has promised this to him.
One day henry is summoned to the library of the mansion. The Judge tells Henry that he knows the butler has been neglecting his duties, that he has been drinking too much. He's sorry, but Henry has to go. He has a day to pack his things, and the Judge will ensure he doesn't starve.
As he returns to his room, Henry Tremble is numb. His world lies in ruins around him. What is he to do?