Eighteen year old Harriet Morton lives with her stuffy professor father and strict and joyless aunt in Cambridge. Her only chance to escape the drudgery of her life is through books or the weekly ballet lessons that her father inexplicably lets her take. When she is offered a position with a travelling ballet troupe going to perform Swan Lake in a remote city up the Amazon river, but denied permission by her father, she rebels and runs away.
When the troupe arrive in Manaus in South America, Harriet has become fully accepted among the dancers of the troupe, and even the prima ballerina, Madame Simonova is impressed with her self-effacing good nature and her work ethic. While she’s neither particularly pretty or vivacious, she’s loyal and kind and catches the eye of Rom Verney, probably the richest man in Manaus. She tries to persuade him to go home to England to take care of his family estate, Stavely Hall, and his young nephew, not realising the intricacies of the family drama that made Verney leave and go into exile in the Amazon in the first place.
There are complications when Harriet’s would-be fiancee arrives, sent by her angry father, to take her back to England. Verney’s recently widowed sister-in-law also arrives to woo him back to England, and is none to happy to see the man she intends to charm, captivated by a young nobody from a ballet company.