- Maisie Dobbs - a psychologist and detective operating her own agency in London between the wars
- James Compton - son of Maisie's mentors and former employers Sir Julian and Lady Rowan Compton.
- Billy Beale - Maisie's assistant
- Priscilla Evenham - Maisie's best friend, a fellow nurse during the war
Beulah Webb ("Aunt Beulah"), a Roma gypsey, is parked with her caravan, waiting for the hop-picking season to begin in the Kent villiage of Heronsdene. While cleaning, cooking and preparing bunches of Michaelmas daisies to sell to the local women, Aunt Beulah thinks of the women who will approach her caravan after dark, long after buying her daisies, to have their fortunes told. While making tea, Aunt Beulah has a vision of a woman with short dark hair approaching her out of an inferno. Aunt Beulah can see the woman has great strength, and that she is emerging out of great grief. She knows the woman will play a part in the changes soon to come. Aunt Beulah knows Death will soon walk among her people, and that this woman "followed Death as he made his rounds." The woman is of gorja (white) and gypsy decent. Beulah waits for the woman whose sight is "as powerful as her own."
Marta Jones, artist and art teacher, observes the students in her current class. One student, an attractive and serious young woman, has taken a particular leadership role in the class, drawing out her classmates and taking great joy in the work. She shares little about herself, saying only that she has recently been exposed to art and wants to learn something creative. She shows talent at the art of making tapestry, and Marta notices the woman's dreas and demeanor have changed as she has taken lessons, her clothing becoming more colorful and her personailty a bit more bright. Marta knows nothing else about the young woman except her name and occupation, seen on a business card: Maisie Dobbs, Psychologist and Detective.
Maisie is hired by the son of her mentor, James Cameron, to investigate incidents of vandalism and petty theft occuring on a large Kent estate he is purchasing. The estate contains a brickworks, and James believes this will be a lucrative business in the growing building boom. However, the small crimes occuring around the estate and brickworks cause him concern. He want to ensure the crimes will not interfere with his business investment. James tells Maisie that it's common for gypsy people to work the hop harvest in Kent, and it's possible they're to blame for the crimes. However, strangely, no accusations have been made against the outsiders by the local people. In fact, no complaints have been filed. It's the strange silence about the crimes that has caused James's concern. As James discusses the "people who travels in caravans," he refers to them as "diddakoi." Maisie quickly and sharply asks if he means diddakoi or Roma, pointing out there is a difference. James seems indifferent to the distinction.
While the two friends, formerly master and servant, talk, both are concious of the memory of Enid, Maisie's fellow servant in the Compton household. James and Enid were deeply in love, but Enid was killed in a factory fire nearly 15 years before. James remains unmarried, although he was recently engaged. He shares with Maisie that the engagement is off.
Maisie listens to James summarize the case, quotes her fee and accepts the work. James notices that Maisie's clothing is more colorful and that she has a more confident air about her. Maisie promises to have his report in a month.
Maisie returns to her office and begins a file on the case. She is relieved for the work as business has been slow, causing her to worry about the future. As she contemplates the case and the state of her business, she remembers a strange dream she's had twice in the last week. In the dream, she is walking through the woods. As she enters a clearing, she sees the embers of a fire. There is no one there, but a loosely tied bunch of Michaelmas daisies is propped against a tree.