A few days before Christmas Tess Williams rushes into Albert Payne's tobacconist shop, with two boys in hot pursuit, saying she's a thief. Albert chases the boys away, and though Tess does not realise it, this incident changes her life.
Tess lives with her grandmother, Edie, in a small flat on Heyworth Street. She has recently returned from Bell Farm, where she was evacuated during the war, and is being bullied by her schoolmates, but when the handsome Snowy White comes to her rescue she thinks her troubles are over, and returns for a working holiday to Bell Farm and her old friend Jonty.
This leaves Edie to her own devices, however, and Tess is jealous of the friendship which blossoms between her grandmother and the tobacconist. Yet though Tess resents Albert, it is to him she turns when things start to go wrong.