In 1850 the Earl of Taplow and his family return from Italy to Taplows,their country house,with their retinue of servants,led by butler Jarvis and house-keeper Flora. George Cosmo, a confident youngster,arrives seeking employment as the second foot-man,bringing with him forged references. Whilst Flora is willing to take him at face value,Jarvis is less certain. However the sudden departure of under-butler Frank creates a vacancy which needs filling immediately. George is taken on. First footman William is not impressed but he catches the eye of Grace,nursemaid to the ...
A grand dinner is to be held and George gets William involved in a scam whereby they will obtain cheap fish for the occasion. Unfortunately the fish is bad and the guests go down with food poisoning. Andrew,the sneaky,bullying under-butler,is aware of what has happened and wants money to keep quiet. Grace comes to George's aid by selling her engagement ring to raise the cash.
William trips on a loose rug and drops young Harry,who eventually dies. Accusations fly amongst the servants as to who is to blame but the Earl concedes that it was an accident. However a planned banquet is cancelled,allowing the staff to enjoy the chef's sumptuous fare. Grace takes the death to heart and picks flowers from the Earl's orangery to provide a blanket for the little boy. The Earl sees this as vandalism but blames and sacks Esther,a maid who had been tormenting Grace.
Because he is a good athlete footman Frederick Matkin is chosen to compete in a race against a servant from a visiting family. Bets are laid and Frederick wins but failure would have cost him his job. Flora is amazed to discover that Jarvis has been stealing money from the Taplows over a lengthy period of time. She considers telling on him but ultimately decides that loyalty to other staff members comes above loyalty to the family.
It's New Year's Day - and payday too but William is increasingly tormented by dreams in which he recalls how he was responsible for the death of young Harry and is unable to get into celebratory mood. This makes him fair game for the hectoring Andrew,leading to a fight in a frozen pond. Grace and George just about manage to keep their relationship a secret but Flora finds herself falling for butler Jarvis.
Flora writes Jarvis a love letter but ultimately destroys it in the light of events as she has seen a couple - actually Grace and George - having a secret meeting and wants them to be identified and punished. Jarvis thinks she is going too far and instead arranges for the male staff to be sent to the family's house in Cumberland where he can keep an eye on them. George is exposed as never having worked as a footman and fears he will be parted from Grace and dismissed but Jarvis keeps him on and sends him to Cumberland instead of William,who will stay at Taplows.