Compelled by the vision of her cousin calling for her, Mary Urquhart travels to Canada, builds a new life and learns the truth about what happened to her cousin. It is the year 1812 and Mary is an intense, wild and stubborn young woman who is often overcome by premonitions about what happens to the people around her in their little village up in the highlands of Scotland. Her abilities as a seer cause her much grief as it makes people wary of her and her powers. One day, as she is tending to the lambs, she hears her Cousin Duncan's voice loud as day, calling for her. Duncan is Mary's closest cousin – they are inseparable and alike as if they were twins. But, Duncan and his family have moved to Upper Canada many years ago, with Duncan promising that he will return to Mary one day. Mary is convinced that something terrible has happened to Duncan as she hears urgency and pain in his voice. Mary determines to travel to Canada and see that Duncan is alright.
Mary gets a ticket on board the Andrew MacBride where she is tricked into giving her supplies into the care of some swindlers who promptly disappear with them. During the sea voyage, Mary meets with other emigrant passengers, hopeful for a new life in Canada. The voyage is treacherous, however, and the conditions on the boat for the peasants are wretched. Mary herself gets very sick but she is lucky as she overcomes her sickness while others die. The boat docks in Montreal and from there Mary travels by coach and then by foot closer to Collivers' Corners, a tiny town near Lake Ontario. Along the way, Mary earns a ride from a wealthy lady by caring for her children. Finally, she walks the last eight miles to Collivers' Corners. As she almost reaches her destination, she meets a young man named Luke Anderson who tells her the tragic news that Duncan has died and his family has moved away.
Mary is devastated. She is so upset that she immediately wants to return home, even though she has not a penny to her name. Luke takes Mary to be cared by a kindly woman in town, who has a gaggle of children. Mary busies herself with helping the woman run her household, but at night, she is still plagued by dreams of Duncan calling out for her. In particular, the woods near the settlement are forbidding to Mary and she refuses to go anywhere near them as they seem foreign to her and eerily lacking in the friendly forest spirits she is used to seeing in her homeland.
One day, Mary is asked to come to Luke's home and try to care for his mother's newborn baby. Though Luke is poorly dressed and they live in dilapidated conditions, he gives off an air of neatness and kindness. But, Mary can't help but be repelled by their home, which is lacking proper care as the women of the household are too overworked to bother with even preventing the food from spoiling. Unfortunately, the newborn baby passes away. After the burial, Mary has a premonition of a barn on fire but she doesn't know what to do about this information as no one in the settlement believes in the second sight so she doesn't tell anyone what she knows. A few days later, there is word that a barn is on fire. Mary rushes to the barn and, with Luke's help, saves a young girl and a cat just before the barn collapses. She finally tells Luke that she has the second sight and she is afraid that Luke will think she is crazy.
A few days later, Mary visits Duncan's home, which is on the banks of Hawthorn Bay. A Native Indian woman named Owena also appears and Mary befriends her. As Mary is trying to figure out why Duncan continues to call for her in her dreams, Luke appears. During the fire, he thought Mary was going to die, and this has compelled him to ask her to marry him. Mary tells him that she is not the one for him and never intends to marry. Luke takes the rejection pretty well. She tells Luke that she's going to live in Duncan's house, now. A few days later, Mary begins to feel a bit ill at ease, especially when she looks into the dark waters of Hawthorn Bay. Despite the occasional foreboding moments, Mary loves her meadow ringing the Bay. She has never felt more at home than when she is surrounded by nature and animals. Also, Mary thinks there are protective guardian spirits watching her as she keeps receiving mysterious packages on her doorstep. Later on, to her embarrassment, she finds out it was really just Luke's doing.
One day, Luke brings his battered little brother to Mary's house, explaining that things at his household are in turmoil and that his little brother, Henry, is better off away from it. Mary gladly takes care of Henry. One day, when Henry is fully healed, Mary allows him to go outside to play. She tells him not to play in the water as she thinks the waters of Hawthorn Bay are evil. Henry disobeys her, however and he ends up almost drowning. Mary frantically resuscitates him; however she is so upset that she scares Henry away. He runs into the woods and Mary, too afraid of the woods, pleads with him to come back. Eventually, Luke arrives and fetches Henry back. Henry explains that Mary had frightened him with her intensity. Later that night, as Henry is resting, Luke tells Mary that sometimes her stories and her odd notions about faeries and the second sight scare people.
Mary spends her first Christmas in Canada, and is enthralled by the winter wonderland. Everything seems to be going well – she has made new friends with the neighbors and Luke comes around almost every day to spend time with her and Henry. At the turning of the year, however, Mary receives another vision and she announces that “there will be no summer next year”. Everyone laughs at her strange proclamation and ignores it. As the seasons approach summer, Mary's urgency to tell everyone how the crops will be blighted increases, and she causes unease in the settlement. Luke urges her not to go around behaving like that, however Mary is compelled to continue telling whoever she can of her premonition. She also continues hearing Duncan's voice calling from the Bay.
Her relationship with Luke has a turn for the worse when Luke again asks Mary to marry him again and she rejects him again. Luke accuses her of being obsessed with Duncan. Finally, the people of the settlement start thinking of Mary as a witch, as their children are getting sick and the crops are failing. The friendships she had with her neighbors turn as frigid as the summer. One day, Henry doesn't come back to live with Mary. Mary visits the Andersons to find out why and learns that Henry is afraid of Mary. In her desperation, Mary asks Luke whether Henry will come to live with her again if she marries him – this obviously angers Luke immensely. Luke tells Mary that she had better go back to Scotland and take Duncan's ghost with her.
That same day, Duncan's voice becomes so strong and compelling that it puts Mary in a thrall. Mary, feeling completely isolated and unloved, finally gives into Duncan's voice and follows it into the waters of Hawthorn Bay. At the last moment, she understands what Duncan's spirit is trying to do: lure her into death where it can be with her forever. Mary is finally able to cut off her connection with Duncan's ghost and give him a blessing to send him off. After this, Mary is no longer afraid of Hawthorn Bay or the surrounding forest. She finds Luke and they reconcile and she and Luke get married. The frigid summer melts, children overcome their illness and the neighbors warm up to Mary again.
Best part of story, including ending:
I like that Janet Lunn incorporates Scottish folklore into her story and contrasts it with the more sensible atmosphere of the Canadian settlements. This contrast makes for an interesting read as Mary must reconcile what she is used to knowing with what people in her new life are comfortable with hearing.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene was near the end when Mary, after finally putting Duncan's spirit to rest, searches for Luke to make amends for her bad behavior towards him. I like that the tables were turned in the courtship because previously, it was Luke who was always trying to court Mary and Mary who was always rejecting him. At the end, Mary brings a gift to court Luke and it's nice to see her ego taken down a peg or two.
Opinion about the main character:
I like that Mary is a daydreamer and full of romantic and fanciful ideas. I think she makes life interesting for Luke, who is more of a sensible man and they make a good couple.