England, Summer 1814
The war is over, Napoleon is in exile on Elba, and Sharpe returns to England. He accepts a posting to Scarsdale, Yorkshire, the town where he grew up, to head the private militia raised by Sir W...展开illoughby Parfitt, a self-made man. He is to protect Parfitt's mills from a 'rebellious' population. At the centre of the trouble is a man called Matt Truman, who Sharpe grew up with.
In London, Jane is finding life as a mistress difficult. She is shunned by society, including Lady Anne Carmoynes (once a mistress herself). In Yorkshire, Sharpe and Harper are met by the local yeomanry and their commander, Capt. Wickham. On their way to Parfitt's home, Sharpe and Harper realise they are being followed. Sharpe shoots one pursuer and corners the other whom he recognises as Matt Truman.
Parfitt blames Truman for the local unrest. At dinner, that evening, another mill owner, Sir Percy Stanwyck, is present. Stanwyck is soon to take delivery of a steam engine, something that will give Parfitt competition. Stanwyck has heard of Sharpe from his son, who died shortly after Talavera. Also in Scarsdale is Dan Hagman, out of the army and looking for work. He joins Truman. Rossendale and Jane are also there to view a property that Rossendale has inherited.
Part of Sharpe's job is to break up illegal meetings. When they are informed of one, Sharpe tells Wickham to arrest Truman without loss of life. Wickham disobeys, Truman escapes, but there is a massacre. Sharpe and Harper are appalled, even Hagman turns away from them. Later Sharpe believes there is a plot to put Stanwyck out of business and he and Harper thwart it. After an unpleasant meeting with Jane, Harper returns to Ireland but where can Sharpe find justice?