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The main story begins in 1875. Helena and Eunice are sisters brought up by their father, the Reverend Abel Gracedieu. He has deliberately kept them in ignorance of their true ages because the elder daughter was adopted in 1858, after her natural mother was executed for the brutal murder of her husband. The story's main narrator is the prison governor who always feared the adoption would end badly because of the taint of inherited evil. The household is joined by the minister's impoverished cousin, Selina Jillgall, to whom ...

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