In Victorian London's Lant Street, young Susan Trinder sells tickets to people wanting to take advantage of her home's view of a hanging. She is every bit as enthusiastic to see the hanging as any of them, despite the fact that her own mother was reputedly hanged for murder. When the hanging happens, she does not turn away from it, as some of the watchers do.
Young Maud Lilly lives in an insane asylum in the English countryside, where her mother died giving birth to her. One day, she has a visitor in the form of an old man all in black, the very sight of whom scares her so much that she screams. Later, somewhat more composed, she curiously asks him why his tongue is so black. Speaking to her as little as possible, preferring to speak to her chaperone, he explains that he is her uncle, Mr. Christopher Lilly, and that he has come to take her into his home, over her objections.
Susan lives with Mrs. Sucksby, who was paid to look after her for a week when she was a baby. Mrs. Sucksby, the den mother of a gang of criminals, including Mr. Ibbs, John Vroom and Dainty, is very fond of Susan, and is particularly impressed by her skills as a pickpocket, claiming that the girl will one day make their fortunes.
Despite Maud's objections, she is brought to Briar, her uncle's house. Told that Mr. Lilly will require her to keep wearing her gloves, Maud defiantly pulls them off and throws them away. Taken to her uncle's library, she breaks another rule by stepping past a marker on the floor. Mr. Lilly proceeds to slap her hand with another pair of gloves, causing her pain. She puts on the gloves. He then explains that he has brought her here to be a secretary.
Years pass in an instant, and Maud is now a young woman. Susan (or Sue) has also grown up into a full-fledged member of the gang, assisting Mrs. Hawksby to care for the babies she's paid to watch out for and engaging in theft.
Mr. Lilly informs Maud that she's to be given lessons in painting by a young man who'll be attending a reading she's to give, Mr. Richard Rivers. Maud watches Rivers arrive. That night, she gives a reading from what seems to be a very romantic novel, and is complimented by her listeners, Mr. Hawtray and Mr. Huss, as well as Rivers. As the older men speak privately with her uncle, Rivers speaks to Maud, clearly flirting with her.
In Lant Street, a man arrives at the home of Mrs. Sucksby's gang. It is Rivers, or Gentleman as he's known to them. He is in fact a con artist and thief. He describes the process by which he's been seducing Maud, with the assistance of her agreeable maid. However, the maid has been sent away, which presents an impediment to his plans to get ahold of the large fortune left to Maud by her mother's will, which she only gets when and if she marries, something that her uncle is determined to prevent. To continue his plan, he needs Sues help. She will become Maud's new maid and become her confidant, persuading her to wed Rivers. He offers her two thousand pounds out of the forty thousand pounds that Rivers plans to steal from Maud, and she bargains it up to three thousand.
Maud receives Sue's application to be her maid, which comes with a recommendation from Rivers. He states that he fears that she will fall into crime if she's not given a new position.
Sue practices the skills she'll need to pose as Maud's maid. She asks Gentleman what's going to happen after he marries the girl, and he explains that he'll arrange for her to be committed to a madhouse, like her mother was. Sue finds that idea somewhat distasteful, but Gentleman insists that the girl is half-mad already.
Maud accepts Rivers' recommendation in a touching letter that Gentleman mockingly reads aloud to the gang. The next day, Sue makes her final preparations. She's very nervous, wondering if this is going too far, but Mrs. Sucksby assures her that her mother would have done what she's doing without hesitation. Sue then wonders if she'll be hanged if she's caught. Mrs. Sucksby tries to lie about this, but then finally admits it but claims that when they hang women, they use a special noose that makes for a quicker death, and anyway, Susans going to make them all rich. This is the first time that she and Susan have ever been parted, and Susan thinks that Mrs. Hawksby is taking it worse than she is.
It's also the first time Sue has ever been out of the city, and she's amazed at how much country there is. She arrives at Briar late at night, and is taken to her room. She's led past a door, behind which can be heard sobs, moans and faint screams. She's sufficiently unnerved that if she'd known how to get out of the house, she'd have run. But the next morning, when she's introduced to Maud, her confidence is restored. Maud first checks to see whether Sue can read, and determines that she can't. Susan embarrassedly asks if she's to be taught, and Maud surprises her by saying that she envies her for not being able to do it. She then tells Sue to put her things in order and collect her from the library in the afternoon.
Later, Sue's bags are brought to her room by a simple-minded servant named Charles, whom she impresses by giving him a small tip. Then she walks into Maud's bedroom, which adjoins hers, and examines the remarkable luxury in which her new mistress lives. She examines a drawer filled with pearl-buttoned gloves, and then picks a lock to look in a jewelry box, finding the cameo of Maud's mother. Hearing the chief maid coming, Sue quickly shifts her focus to trying to put Maud's things in order. The chief maid, Mrs. Stiles, tells her to give the stubs of the candles from the night before to the steward, and that she may keep the left-over pieces of soap that Maud uses. Sue virtuously declines, comparing this to thieving.
Sue goes to the library to collect Maud, and almost crosses over the forbidden line. That evening, she builds up a fire, somewhat to Maud's distress, as Mrs. Stiles apparently keeps a very detailed account of coal and wood. Sue tells her that she'll tell them that they're compensating by burning the candles down to the wick, and assures her that she knows how to handle people like Mrs. Stiles. As Sue begins to undress her, Maud apologizes for not having warned her about the line that she almost crossed in the library, but Sue brushes it off with a laugh, which makes Maud laugh as well. Sue also politely compliments one of Maud's paintings, which the painter herself thinks is terrible. She asks Sue about Rivers, and Sue passes on Rivers' compliments, saying that he looks forward to seeing her at the end of the month. Maud then asks whether Sue considers Rivers to be handsome, and Sue evasively answers that her previous employer considers him to be one of the most handsome men in London. After Sue helps her put on a nightgown, Maud states that she thinks Rivers is a good man, which opinion Sue is quick to support.
Later, Sue is awakened by the moans from Maud's room, and rushes to see what's the matter. It turns out that Maud can only sleep if she has a sleeping drug, and needs someone else to pour it for her. Otherwise, she has terrible nightmares. (At the same time, it becomes apparent that she even wears her gloves while sleeping.) Maud asks Sue to sleep in the same bed as her, and while she initially refuses, she does so that night and every night thereafter.
On another day, Sue collects Maud from the library, silently pointing out the way that she's carefully staying behind the line. As they leave the house, arm in arm, they begin to laugh at how funny it all seems. Later, Sue files down Maud's fingernails so that they don't damage her gloves. They are always together, like the sisters neither of them has ever had. Sue comes to realize that Maud isn't crazy, as Gentleman said that she was, but just repressed by the horrible place where she lives and the way that she does so, missing out on so much of life's simple pleasures.
Maud gives Susan some of her own dresses. Later, Sue does a fake fortune telling for Sue, reflecting on how different the future that she and Gentleman are going to inflict on her from the rosy future she describes. In the process, she makes a mistake, dropping the card which indicates love on the floor. Maud then asks Sue to tell her about London, in particular the sort of dances that they do, and as Sue goes to clear a space so that she can show her, Maud picks up the love card.
Later, the two women dance together to a waltz. Maud hopes to become better at it in London, and Sue reflects that Gentleman won't care how well Maud dances.
Later yet, Sue helps to treat one of Maud's wisdom teeth, and caresses Maud's face for the first time. As she does so, a carriage pulls up outside the house with Rivers in it. Sue realizes that she's feeling happy to be with Maud, and that she hates Gentleman for ruining it. Meanwhile, Maud frantically wonders whether she can possibly receive Rivers in her current state, and Sue feels a desire to tell her the truth, but thinks that Maud would never believe her.
Rivers arrives in the sitting room and compliments the woman who is standing with her back to him, looking out through the window. She turns around; it's Sue, not Maud. Maud is off to one side. They engage in small talk with innuendoes passed between Sue and Rivers.
That night, Rivers works in the library with Mr. Lilly, who tells him that he expects the job for which Rivers has been hired to be done within three weeks. Rivers assures him that it will be.
Rivers spends a week teaching Maud how to paint still life, and another teaching her to paint landscapes, both without notable success. He compliments her painting, saying how much he'd like to bring her and her work to his gallery in London. Speaking privately to Sue, he implies that Maud is nearly seduced.
Later, in a tete-a-tete with Sue, Gentleman asks her whether Maud talks about him, and is told that she talks of nothing else. She suggests that he simply propose and get it over with, but he thinks that would frighten her off. But they're running out of time, and he relies on Sue to convince Maud that she's in love with him, violently reminding her of how much money is at stake.
On another day, Maud is painting a view of the river that runs past the house, while Sue dozes against a boat. When Sue wakes up, she finds herself alone, and starts looking for them, finding them standing by a tree. Rivers pulls off one of Maud's gloves and begins to kiss her hand. Sue watches this with a decidedly jealous look, and is seen by Rivers, who gives her a triumphant grin. Later, he tells her that Maud has been hooked, but it is up to Sue to finish the job.
It starts to rain, and Sue and Maud run for the shelter of a tree. Startled by thunder, Maud clings to Sue and tells her that Rivers has asked for her hand in marriage. Sue feigns enthusiasm for the prospect, but Maud guesses that she's not pleased. Sue claims that she's just surprised, but that she is pleased as well. Maud then reveals that she hasn't accepted the proposal, as she thinks her uncle would never let her go. Rivers has apparently suggested that they elope and marry in a small church nearby. Before she can go further, she's startled and clings to Sue a second time.
Sometime later, Rivers sneaks into a room where Maud is continuing to paint, and surprises her with an embrace, which she backs away from, while Susan looks on in dismay. He offers Sue a coin to go off to another room and leave him alone with Maud, and while she thinks about taking it, she refuses. This angers Rivers, but he says nothing then.
Later, though, he surprises Sue in a hallway, asking her what she thinks she's doing. She just tells him to keep his hands off of Maud, as she doesn't like to be touched. Rivers pushes her up against the wall, and tells her that Maud is practically crying out for it. Sue claims all that Maud wants is to leave this place, and she doesn't think it right that she should do so only to end up in a madhouse. Grabbing her by the throat, Rivers threatens to cut Sue out of the deal entirely. When Sue threatens to reveal his plans, he reminds her that she's been in on them from the beginning.
Maud paces in front of a seated Sue, trying to make her mind up as to whether she should accept the proposal. Sue tells her that she should follow her heart, if she loves Rivers. But Maud claims that she isn't sure if she does. Sue describes what she imagines love feels like, but Maud apparently doesn't feel anything like that. Realizing this, Sue blurts that Maud should say no. Maud is very startled by this advice, and points out that if she does that, she'll always wonder what would have happened if she did. Reflecting on what Mrs. Sucksby told her about her mother, remembering the money, Sue tells Maud that Rivers does love her, and that she should trust in that. Maud says that she'll agree, but only if Sue comes with them.
Rivers makes arrangements for the ceremony with an old woman in the church, and also arranges to stay at her cottage after the wedding.
The wedding is two days away, to be held at midnight. On the night before they are to flee, Maud watches Sue undress and then dress for bed. After Sue climbs into bed with her, Maud asks her if she knows what married people do on their wedding night. Horrified by the question, Sue futilely pretends to be asleep. Maud claims that she knows some things from books, but Sue is aghast at that idea, which embarrasses Maud further. She wants to know what's going to happen, and Sue claims that it'll probably start with a kiss on the lips. Maud is dubious, as Rivers' kisses have never done much for her, and Sue offers to demonstrate. She kisses Maud, on the lips and then again, and again, and again. Maud agrees that that was nice, but that it lacks something. Sue suggests that what it lacks is Rivers, but Maud doesn't think so. Holding Maud's hand, Sue insists that the other girl will have to do it sometime, and they realize that she's still wearing the gloves. Sue slowly pulls them off, and they begin to kiss again, slowly lying down. Sue runs her hand down Maud's body, sliding it under the covers. They make love. Sue calls Maud a pearl.
The next morning, Sue wakes up before Maud. She seems startled by what happened. Maud wakes up, saying that she had a wonderful night's sleep without any drugs, and not a single nightmare, only a very pleasant dream. Sue was in it. Sue reminds Maud about her impending nuptials, and hurriedly gets out of bed.
Rivers is having his things packed up and taken out to a cart. He looks up at Maud's window, expecting to see her there. In her room, Sue has dressed and coiffed Maud. Maud goes to the window and looks out at Rivers. Looking back on it, Sue reflects that if she'd told Maud that she loved her, then, Maud would have said it back, and all the bad things that were going to happen wouldn't have. But she said nothing. They start to pack up her things, and then go out to see Rivers off.
That night, Sue offers to give Maud back the dress that she gave her, so that she can be married in it. Maud refuses the offer. Sue takes a look at the painting that Maud did on the day that Rivers proposed, noting an odd red stain. Sue reflects that it would be so easy to tell Maud the truth about Rivers, even though it would probably have resulted in her being locked up. She thinks about the mockery she'd endure on Lant Street if it got out that she was in love with a girl. She steps out to check on the weather.
Coming back in, she's surprised by Mr. Lilly, whos just now leaving the library and locking it up behind him. He barely notices her.
At fifteen minutes to midnight, Rivers is waiting in a boat on the river. Sue goes to get the bags, and picks up one of Maud's gloves as a keepsake. She then heads out into the hallway, but Maud is nowhere to be seen. She finds her doing something to the library door, and they both begin to make their way out of the house. A noise wakes up her Mr. Lilly, but Maud sends him back to bed by simply saying that it's just her. They escape the house and head down the hill to join Rivers in the boat.
The wedding ceremony is held, with Sue giving Maud away. She notes that the ring is just as bad as everything else about the affair, as Gentleman hasn't even bothered to get a golden band.
After the wedding, they head for a cottage, where Sue starts to prepare Maud for her wedding night. Sue can't even bring herself to look at Maud as the clothes come off, but after a nightgown is slid on over her head, Maud tells her to look at her. As Sue does, Maud kisses her, presses Sue's hands to her own body, and asks her if it wasnt a dream. Rivers peeks in through the door, but backs away. Maud pushes Sue to the bed and they frantically make love.
The next day, Rivers comes to Sue's room and tells her that Maud wants her to come and dress her. He boasts that having discovered the meaning of true love, Maud is now half-way to the madhouse. As the old woman who owns the cottage comes into hearing, he puts up a false front of concern for Maud's well-being. Sue goes to Maud's room, finding Maud seated in a chair with a very unhappy expression, and a blood stain on the bedsheets.
Sue takes the bedding out to be washed. The old woman inquires as to Maud's well-being, and Sue spins the tale that Rivers concocted about Maud being on the verge of madness. Maud comes to the window and watches them talking, but it's not clear whether she can hear Sue gossiping in this way or not. The old woman becomes apprehensive about a dangerous mad-woman staying in her cottage, but Sue calms her down.
Later, Maud asks Rivers why they can't go to London, and is told that she's not well enough to travel. She insists that she is, and that she hates it here. The old woman brings in a breakfast. Maud thinks that the old woman doesn't like her, and she doesn't like the old woman either. She's afraid, but Rivers insists that there's nothing to be afraid of.
For the next week, [Sue narrates,] Maud eats practically nothing, and takes more and more drops to help her sleep. She apparently thinks that if she does this, Rivers won't want her. In fact, she's doing exactly what he does want, putting herself into a state where she'll be exactly what he wants the madhouse doctors to see. He sends them a letter.
The only pleasure that Maud finds is dressing Sue in her old gowns and jewelry. While doing so, they have a moment where they seem to be on the verge of recapturing their former intimacy, but they're interrupted by the sound of a carriage approaching. Sue looks out the window and confirms that it's the doctors, but she tells Maud that it's some friends of Rivers' from London whove come to meet her. Maud is surprised, as if she didn't realize that they'd be coming that afternoon. Maud doesn't want to receive them, and Rivers asks Sue to step outside for a moment.
Outside, Sue asks Gentleman not to let the doctors hurt Maud. He scoffs at this, saying that she is money to these men, but that unless they agree to take her away today, they won't do it at all. He asks Sue if she knows how to answer their questions, and she hints that she might not do so. Gentleman tells her not to mess things up now, when they're so close to success. Inside, the doctors are speaking with the old woman who owns the cottage, and look out at Gentleman and Sue. He asks her if she wants to go back to Mrs. Sucksby with nothing.
He brings her in to speak with the doctors, who explain that theyd like to ask her a few questions about Rivers' marriage. Sue interjects to say that he's married to her mistress. The doctors inquire as to whom she means when she talks about her mistress, and she refers to Mrs. Rivers, the former Miss Lilly. They nod, and ask Sue to tell them about herself. She does so, confused about their interest in her. After describing her background, she says that she's concerned for her mistress' welfare, and breaks into tears as she begs the doctors to make sure that her mistress is in a safe place. They assure her that they'll take good care of her, and that she's very lucky to have such a faithful servant.
Watching through a window, Sue sees the doctors tell Gentleman that they agree that it's a very serious case, and that they'll send the carriage to pick her up tomorrow.
Later, Rivers comes into Maud's bedroom, where she's lying in bed while Sue watches over her, and tells her that she looks a little better. Tomorrow, he claims, they'll be going to London. She's startled by this, and he promises that she'll be going to a fine house with quiet rooms and good servants.
The next day, Maud insists that Sue go on wearing the same gown that she wore yesterday. Going through her luggage, Sue finds the glove that she took as a keepsake, and puts it inside her dress to hold it close to her heart. Then all three head out and step into the back of the carriage thats been sent for them. It heads off down the road.
They arrive at the madhouse, and Maud looks out through a window apprehensively. When they arrive at the front door, the doctor opens up the back door, and greet Mr. Rivers, Miss Smith, Mrs. Rivers. It takes Sue a moment to realize that he has just addressed her. A moment later, Rivers forces her out the door and into the arms of the doctors, despite her protests that she's Susan Smith. They tell her that the place she's given as an address doesn't exist. She screams profanity at Gentleman, and then sees the hostile expression on Maud's face. Maud speaks in a variation on Sue's accent, referring to her as her mistress, and now Sue realizes exactly how much she's been betrayed. Maud hasn't ever been the victim of a con; Sue has, and Maud has been in on it with Gentleman. She screams and fights ...
Maud, looking on, reflects that Sue thought that she knew her, thought her an innocent. But she wasnt; she knew everything, and nothing. To explain what happened, the story returns to the first night that Rivers came to Briar. The book that Maud reads from is not a romantic tale, but is a piece of erotica that describes a rape, complete with an explicit drawing which she exhibits to the listeners. Mr. Lilly is a collector and connoisseur of erotica, a self-described curator of poisons, who has exposed Maud to it from the age of twelve, so that she can be his librarian and later his eyes as well. That night, Rivers continues to try and flatter Maud, but she's unmoved by his compliments.
Later, as she's in her bed, she sees him lurking outside her window. A note is slipped under her door, informing her that they need to talk about her mother's will. Maud lets Rivers into her room. She informs him that she doesn't do the sorts of things she reads about, and he responds thats not what interests him. He explains to her the true terms of her mothers will, that she'll receive forty thousand pounds if and when she marries. He claims that he came to seduce her and steal her fortune, but having met her he realizes that it would be an insult to try. Instead, he wants to free her. Uncomfortable with his presence, Maud orders him to leave, and he does so.
The next day, Maud is walking on the estate, and Rivers rides up on a horse and proposes marriage without even bothering to get down from the horse. She's upset by his effrontery and walks off. Leaving the horse in Charles' care, Rivers follows Maud and promises that he will not attempt intimacy with her, and that they can part after the ceremony. All he wants is half of her fortune.
Maud thinks this idea is absurd, and that her uncle would never permit it. Rivers' plan is to make Mr. Lilly think that Maud has been put into a madhouse, while actually putting someone else there in her stead. A new maid will be installed, someone who thinks that she's tricking Maud, but who will be tricked herself. The idea makes Maud physically sick, but looking out at the rising sun over the river, imagining herself free of Briar, it is very tempting.
The next day, Rivers continues to push the idea on Maud, saying that they will never have another opportunity like this. She still thinks the idea of tricking a girl like this is despicable. Rivers tells her that the girl he has in mind is a thief who would willingly do what they're planning to Maud. Maud still walks away.
Maud is working in the library when Rivers comes in, walks past the line on the floor without even slowing down, pulls open the drapes that keep the room dim, and throws open a window, all over Maud's protests. He tells her that she belongs out there, not locked up with these books. Maud closes the window and tells him to go.
But she's accepted the plan. The first obstacle to the plan is the presence of Maud's current maid, Agnes, who keeps a close eye on the two of them during Maud's lessons in painting. She cannot dismiss her, and so Rivers seduces Agnes. The two of them are caught in the hallway by Mrs. Stiles, and Agnes is sent away in disgrace, leaving the way open for a new maid. Maud is shaken by what's been done, but her background doesn't allow her to feel that way for too long. When the new maid, Sue, arrives, it's with a recommendation that informs Maud that this is the girl who will be put in the madhouse in her place, reminding her that Sue has to be taught to imitate Maud, and vice versa.
Maud is initially contemptuous of Sue, whose lower class origins and lack of refinement are made very obvious as they eat breakfast one day, and thinks that Sue has only come to be her betrayer. But she becomes used to Sue, and realizes, when they do the fortune telling, that Sue is a real person with human weaknesses. But in order to escape from Briar, she is willing to trick and hate Sue.
One day while they are practicing dancing, a note comes to tell Maud that Rivers is coming tomorrow. This is what prompts Maud to dress Sue in her dresses. She realizes, looking at Sue in the dress, that Sue is beautiful, and has to keep reminding herself that Sue thinks Maud is going to be the one who'll end up in the madhouse, in order to continue with the plan.
But Sue's presence has changed so much in Maud's life. She starts to find meaning in the words in her uncle's books. She watches Sue as the latter sleeps, reaching out to almost touch her, but not quite managing it.
Painting by the riverside with Rivers in attendance, Maud becomes fascinated with the sight of Sue asleep. Rivers reminds Maud that time is of the essence if they want to continue with their plan, and that they have to convince Sue that they're in love. But Maud can't take her eyes off of Sue, and Rivers notices this when she lets red paint drip onto the landscape that she's making. He grabs her and drags her away to the side of a nearby tree, and mocks her for being in love with Sue, claiming that Sue would be disgusted and revolted by her affection. Unless Maud wants to remain in Briar forever, she has to put up a false front of loving Rivers to fool Sue. Hearing Sue calling for her, Maud agrees to the pretense, and the scene that Sue witnesses, with Rivers kissing her ungloved hand, is an elaborate deception.
What's not a deception is what happens between Maud and Sue that night. But Maud thinks that Sue is ashamed of what happened between them, and takes this as proof that Sue's feelings are false, just another part of the trap that Sue is creating for Maud. So she decides to go ahead with the plan to use Sue to escape and then abandon her in a madhouse.
There is one more thing she needs to do before she can escape. Maud creeps into her uncle's bedroom and steals a razor from his nightstand. Entering the library, she uses the razor to vandalize his collection of erotica, destroying as much of it as she can. Then she leaves with Sue.
At the cottage, after the ceremony (and also after Maud and Sue have made love for the second time) Rivers comes into Maud's bedroom and tells her that they need to do something to complete the illusion. She thinks he means to rape her, but in fact what he wants to do is leave a bloodstain on the bedding, cutting himself to produce the blood. He coarsely asks her if she's having her period, as it would make it a lot easier on him. Angered by this, she offers to let him cut her instead. He finally does cut himself.
A week later, when the doctors come to see them, Rivers presents Maud to them as Susan, his wife's maid. She begins telling them about the stories her mistress has been making up ever since her wedding night. The doctor comments that it's only to be expected from a woman who reads so much as Maud does. Rivers breaks into the discussion to describe the unnatural things that his wife has subjected her poor maid to, and Maud breaks down in tears, likely at the realization that what she hoped was private is known to him.
The next day, she allows Susan to be dragged away to the madhouse, even though it breaks her heart. As they are driven away from the madhouse, Rivers compliments her on her performance, and she tells him to shut up or she'll kill him. She pulls off the wedding ring and throws it to the floor. Rivers picks it up as she pulls on her gloves.
In the madhouse, Sue is being dragged around by female guards, protesting that she's been tricked. Continuing to address her as Mrs. Rivers, the doctor tells her to stop lying, and she spits at him. The guards strip off her clothes, and assault her.
Maud and Rivers arrive in London. Looking in her purse, Maud finds the love card she picked up much earlier, and is reminded of Sue. Rivers blandly assures her that Sue is much better off where she is than where she came from. The carriage brings them to Lant Street, which is definitely not what Maud expected. Rivers explains that they cannot live grandly until the lawyer agrees to give them the money. He brings her to the house of Mrs. Sucksby and introduces her as Mrs. Maud Rivers. Mrs. Sucksby is visibly fascinated by her, reaching out to touch her face, though Maud backs away from the familiarity. Mrs. Sucksby congratulates Gentleman on his success.
In the padded room of the asylum, Sue remembers talking with Maud and throws the glove (which she's managed to hold onto) to the floor in anger. What keeps her alive is the thought that Mrs. Sucksby will find her, and then Sue will find and kill Maud.
Back in London, Maud realizes that this is where Sue lived, and that the people there are her band of crooks. She understands that she has been tricked, and tells Gentleman to get her a cab, or she'll get a policeman. None of the thieves take this threat seriously. Maud tries to run away, but they grab her luggage, and John Vroom holds her at knife point. Maud responds to this by grabbing one of the babies that Mrs. Sucksby cares for and threatens to kill it if she's not released. Mrs. Sucksby calmly tells her that she can do so, as it makes no difference to her if she's caring for seven babies or for six, or even five. Maud hands over the baby, and is taken to sit by the fire.
In the asylum, Sue has been put in with the other prisoners. The guards use them as unpaid domestics, and threaten to put one of them, Mrs. Frobisher, in a painful-looking restraint if she doesn't stop singing hymns. Mrs. Frobisher asks her if she's out or in, and Sue says that she's very much in. This strikes the guards as hilarious, and they tell her that if she keeps telling the truth like that, she might just get out of there.
In London, Maud wakes up, having slept in a chair, to see that Mrs. Sucksby has apparently been watching her sleep. Mrs. Sucksby assures her that they mean her no harm. Maud can't imagine that they mean her well if they won't let her leave. Mrs. Sucksby is very impressed with Maud's grammar, and asks some questions about how her uncle treated her. Gentleman explains that this whole affair has actually been orchestrated by Mrs. Sucksby, and Mrs. Sucksby claims that they knew about Maud's fortune from Maud's mother. Maud doesn't believe this, as she knows that she was born in an asylum. Mrs. Sucksby tells her that isn't true. She was born in Lant Street.
As Mrs. Sucksby tells it, Marianne Lilly ran away from Briar when she was pregnant, and ended up in Mrs. Sucksby's care as she gave birth. When her father and brothers came to take her back, Mary-Anne gave her daughter a plain name: Susan. Marianne begged Mrs. Sucksby to keep her daughter and raise her, rather than letting her be taken with her back to Briar. So Mrs. Sucksby gave her another child to take back with her, one who'd been born on the same day as Marianne's child: Maud. Stunned by these revelations, Maud faints.
In the asylum, Sue is allowed out into the yard to exercise, and confides her true name to one of the inmates, who believes her. However the guard tells her the woman also believes that there are creatures on the moon. This drives Sue into a rage, and she starts fighting the guards again.
In London, Maud wakes up from her faint. Mrs. Sucksby gives her brandy. Maud still doesn't believe what she's been told, reflecting back to her origins in a madhouse. Gentleman claims that Marianne's father and brothers preferred the madhouse to the disgrace of having an unwed mother on their hands, and that she didn't go insane until she ended up there.
In the asylum, Sue is being subjected to water punishment, tied to a board and immersed in freezing water. She decides that she really is mad.
In London, Gentleman and Mrs. Sucksby are having an argument about Maud when she comes downstairs and asks who her mother actually was. Mrs. Sucksby claims that she doesn't know, as Maud was a foundling. Now Maud wants to know, if Marianne was Sue's mother, how does Maud have a fortune? Mrs. Sucksby explains that Marianne divided the inheritance between Maud and Sue, to be awarded to them on their twenty-first birthday, which is only a month away, and shows her a letter that proves it. Mrs. Sucksby's plan is to get all of that money, with Gentleman only receiving three thousand pounds. Maud says that she won't sign anything, and Sue can't as she's in the madhouse. But their plain is for Maud to go on impersonating Sue, and Gentleman, posing as the husband of the mad Maud, will sign for her. Maud guesses that she'll be killed after she signs, but Mrs. Sucksby claims that she's one of the gang now. She wants Maud to teach her how to be a lady so that she can enjoy her money. Maud continues to refuse, and Gentleman points out that since the woman imprisoned is thought to be the real Maud, she has no name or identity if she doesn't use Sue's. She has no real choice. And, he adds, if she thinks her life with money was hard, she should really try living without.
In the asylum, two weeks after being subjected to the water punishment, Sue is prepared to be whoever the doctors want her to be if theyll only let her out. She keeps hoping that Mrs. Sucksby will come to rescue her, but remembers her advice about telling people what they want to hear. So she poses as Mrs. Rivers for the doctor, saying how much she wants to see her husband and her poor maid again. However, he tests her by making her write her name, and she can't write Maud's name. So they still think she's mad, but assure her that once she can write her own name, her husband will be there to sign her out. Knowing that Gentleman will never do so, Sue despairs.
In London, Maud thinks about what she's done to Sue as Mrs. Sucksby counts down the days to her twenty-first birthday. She wants to escape and get to Sue.
In the asylum, Sue is given food only if she answers to Mrs. Rivers.
In London, Maud asks Dainty about Sue. Dainty thinks that Sue turned out bad, but she did like her before that. Maud remembers dancing with Sue, walking with Sue and then she comes up with an escape plan. Faking a stomach illness, she gets Dainty to take her to the privy. There, she claims that she's bleeding badly and sends Dainty to get help. Once Dainty leaves, Maud quickly runs away into the streets of London.
Maud asks for help from a passing cab, and tells the gentleman inside that she needs to go to a hotel. He lets her in, but then begins to make advances to her as they drive along. When he tries to restrain her, she bites him and jumps out of the cab, then runs away. She avoids people after that. She runs through the streets, her slippers tearing, her feet bleeding, until she comes to the only street in London that she knows the one where Mr. Hawtray has a bookstore. Maud bursts in and goes to speak with him, asking him for help. Mr. Hawtray is very startled to see her.
In the asylum, Sue is told that Mrs. Rivers has a visitor. She goes to see whos looking for her. Her visitor is Charles, the servant she tipped earlier, though it takes her a while to recognize him. He's confused by the references to her as Mrs. Rivers, but she manages to keep him quiet with a kiss. She uses him to confirm her identity as Sue, but tells him to call her Mrs. Rivers, and asks him about Briar. Charles tells her that Mr. Lilly had a stroke the night she and Maud ran away. After that, Charles was so cruelly treated by the houses steward that he ran away. He hoped to find help from Mr. Rivers, who was very kind to him before, and came to the madhouse because his aunt (the woman who owns the cottage) told him that Mrs. Rivers was there. She asks him to bring her a blank key and a file when he visits her again, and he agrees.
In London, Mr. Hawtray refuses to let Maud stay at his house, as he has a wife and family who know nothing of his illegal activities as a bookseller and publisher who deals in erotica. She offers to work for him as a proofreader, demonstrating her ability, but he refuses that as well. He can't help her in any real way.
With no other options, Maud returns to Lant Street. Mrs. Sucksby tries to embrace her, but Maud continues to pull away. Mrs. Sucksby finally tells her the truth Maud is her own daughter, not a foundling.
In the asylum, Charles brings Sue the things that she asked for, and she tells him to come to the wall around the asylum at a certain time. In the dorm that night, Sue causes a mild disturbance that allows her to be the one to be entrusted with the keys and made to rub the guards hands with some cream. She makes an impression of the key to the dormitory door in the cream, and then, after the guards are asleep, quietly files the blank key so that it matches the blank. She sneaks out of the dormitory, and though Mrs. Frobisher sees her opening the door, she doesn't alert the guards. Sue goes to the wall, and finds Charles fast asleep on the ground below. Without his help, she's forced to drop to the ground, cutting herself on her forehead. She kicks Charles until he wakes up, and they run off together. She thinks of the look on Mrs. Sucksby's face when she arrives, and she thinks of Maud, wherever she is.
Maud is proceeding with her impersonation of Sue. She tries on Sue's bangles, and carries a small wallet, in which she keeps the love card. Seeing it, she's reminded again of Sue, and starts to cry.
In the countryside, Sue burglarizes a cottage, getting food and clothes for the trip to London. She also steals a watch, simply because she can. While Charles is horrified by this, she claims that it's the first time she's ever done anything like that. She finds the glove again, and stomps on it. Sue also promises Charles that she'll get Mr. Rivers to go back to the cottage and pay for everything that she took. This comforts him, and they rest together under a tree.
In London, Maud brings Mrs. Sucksby a cup of tea, and asks her about her father. He was a sailor with whom Mrs. Sucksby had an affair.
Sue and Charles have arrived in London. She exults in the stench of it, reclaiming her real name for the first time since she left. Making her way to Lant Street with Charles, she tries to go to her old home, where she sees Mr. Ibbs talking with a fellow fingersmith named Tommy Joslin. Before she can go to them, Sue sees Maud in the house, and almost breaks down in tears.
Mrs. Sucksby tells Maud happy birthday.
Sue shows Charles the watch that she stole, and finally tells him the whole truth about herself and Mr. Rivers. Just as she's doing so, she spots Gentleman walking down the street to the house.
Gentleman walks in and mockingly greets Maud, to Mrs. Sucksby's anger. He goes to call a cab.
Sue tells Charles to go to the house and deliver a message to Mrs. Sucksby, taking the watch with him. He gives the watch to Mr. Ibbs, and then sees Maud there.
Charles comes back to Sue and tells her that he gave the message to Maud, who sent back the love card as a reply. Sue takes this as a taunt, tears the card up, and storms into the house with a knife, confronting the gang. They believe that she abandoned the plan to steal some jewelry and got caught; Sue believes that this is what Maud told them, unaware that it's the story invented by Mrs. Sucksby herself. Maud tries to get Sue to leave, as she's in danger, but Sue isn't in any mood to hear it. Her angry responses anger Maud, and Sue runs screaming at Maud with a knife. John Vroom and Mrs. Sucksby stop them, and John gets hit on the head by Mrs. Sucksby for his troubles. He threatens her, but her attention is on Sue. She claims that she had no idea what was going to happen to Sue, that she's been tricked by Gentleman.
At that point, Gentleman arrives. Mrs. Sucksby tells him to leave as she's outraged by what Sue has just told her. Gentleman starts to leave, but Sue demands that he remain. Mrs. Sucksby backs her up, but starts to take the knife away from her. Gentleman, disgusted by all this, tells her to tell Sue the truth. Maud tells him to shut up, and he finally notices the resemblance between her and Mrs. Sucksby, and realizes the truth, and reveals it. In the confused melee that follows, Sue, Maud and Mrs. Sucksby are all pushed up against Gentleman, and he is stabbed with the knife. It's not clear who was holding it. Gentleman drops to the ground, bleeding to death and begging for a surgeon. Charles runs off screaming murder, while the others watch him die.
A policeman confirms that Gentleman is dead, and asks who did this. John Vroom takes vengeance on Mrs. Sucksby by accusing her, and while Maud tries to claim responsibility, no one is interested in hearing her after Mrs. Sucksby confesses. It turns out that Gentleman is actually a drapers son named Frederick Bunt. Maud disappears. Mrs. Sucksby is sentenced to hang for the crime.
Sue visits Mrs. Sucksby in gaol, noting that the older woman expects her to be with someone else, but she comes alone. Mrs. Sucksby asks her to watch as she's hung, and to remember her fondly if she hears bad things about her after she's dead. Sue tearfully agrees.
Walking with Dainty, Sue's given some money by Tommy Joslin, that has been collected in sympathy for Mrs. Sucksby's troubles.
Maud comes to visit Mrs. Sucksby in gaol, and asks her to tell the police the truth that it was Maud who stabbed Gentleman. Mrs. Sucksby refuses, claiming to view this as her punishment for what she did to Maud and Sue. She asks Maud to never tell Sue the truth about what happened, and Maud agrees. Maud says that she really came to see Mrs. Sucksby before the end, and though she initially still recoils from her touch, she presses a kiss to the old womans hand and calls her mother.
Mrs. Sucksby is hanged. Sue watches, and doesn't turn away.
Later, Sue collects Mrs. Sucksby's effects from the gaol, including a shirt on which her scent still lingers. She breaks down in tears, and is comforted by Dainty, who takes the shirt and discovers Mariannes letter hidden in the collar. As neither of them can read, they turn to Tommy Joslin, who reads it out to them, revealing the truth about Sue and Maud's origins. For the first time in ages, Sue remembers Maud with something like fondness.
Having heard that Mr. Lilly has died, Sue returns to Briar in hopes of finding some clue to Maud's whereabouts. She walks through the empty house and arrives at the library, finding Maud there, busily writing at a desk and with ink stains on her face. Maud's first question is to ask whether Sue has come to kill her. Sue says no, and steps past the line. Sue claims that she knows everything now, but Maud tells her that she doesn't. She stands up and picks up a book, reading an erotic passage aloud to Sue. Sue stops her, looks at the book, and asks if all the books in the library are like that. Maud says they are, and that she writes books like them to support herself. Maud thinks Sue must hate her. Sue is startled by this, and claims that she doesn't. Maud brokenly apologizes for what she did to Sue, and Sue reflects that they were both tricked, producing the letter. Maud tells her that the money is hers if she wants it, but all Sue wants to know is if Maud knew who Sue's mother was before all this. Maud tells her that she didn't, and that Mrs. Sucksby didn't want her to know. She confesses that she killed Gentleman. Sue cleans off the ink stains on Maud's face, causing her to knock papers to the floor. Sue asks what they say.
Maud answers, "words saying, how I want you ... how ... I love you."