Many of the events of the novel are narrated twice. First by the 'editor', who gives his account of the facts as he understands them to be, and then in the words of the 'sinner' himself. The 'Editor's Narrative' starts in 1687 with the marriage of Rabina Orde to the much older George Colwan, the Laird of Dalcastle. Rabina disapproves of her new husband because he lacks her religious beliefs, dances and drinks alcohol, leading to the couple soon separating. However, Rabina Colwan gives birth to two children. The first, George, is the son of the Laird. It is strongly implied, though never absolutely confirmed, that her second son, Robert, was fathered by the Reverend Wringhim, Rabina’s spiritual adviser. George, raised by the Laird, becomes a friendly young man who enjoys sports and the company of his friends. Robert, educated by his mother and adoptive father Wringhim, is brought up to follow Wringhim’s radical sect of Calvinism, which holds that only certain elect people are predestined to be saved by God. These chosen few will have a heavenly reward regardless of how their lives are lived.