Tant’ Sannie, a simple, slow, Boer farm woman whom an Englishman marries just before his death so that there will be someone left to care for his daughter and her cousin. She ignores his request to educate the girls because she considers education unnecessary. After the children grow up, she marries a neighboring widower.
Lyndall, Tant’ Sannie’s stepdaughter, a serious, studious girl. She goes to the city, where her unconventional ideas and conduct lead to her ruin. She lives with a man but, scorning legal ties, will not marry him. Gregory Rose finds her in a hotel room, ill and deserted by her lover. She dies shortly thereafter, and he takes her body back to the farm for burial.
Em, Lyndall’s cousin, a more conventional young woman. Betrothed to Gregory Rose, she discovers that she does not love him and breaks off the engagement. After Lyndall’s death, Gregory proposes again, and she accepts.
Waldo, the son of the German overseer on the farm. Like Lyndall, he is serious and studious. He leaves the farm and wanders far but returns disillusioned. When he learns that Lyndall, whom he has always loved, is dead, his one desire is to be in the earth with her. One warm sunny day, he dies.
Gregory Rose, a young Englishman who rents part of the farm. He is betrothed to Em until she decides she does not love him. When Lyndall returns home, he is attracted to her and agrees to marry her. She runs off with her lover, however, and he sees no more of her until he finds her deserted by her lover and dying. He takes her body back to the farm. Eventually, he marries Em.
Bonaparte Blenkins, a rascally drifter. Attracted by his glib manner, Tant’ Sannie allows him to take over the farm for a time, and he discharges the regular overseer, Waldo’s father, who then dies of grief. Jealous and angry when she discovers Bonaparte making love to her niece, Tant’ Sannie drives him from the farm.