John Grant and his wife Susan are a middle-class couple who, after dropping off their ailing daughter at the children's department of St Richard's Hospital in Chichester, decide to visit the local auction rooms. They fall in love with and buy a beautiful scenic painting from the late 19th century which depicts a young boy fishing by the local River Arun. However, unbeknown to the couple, its origins lie deep in a calamity that happened long ago. And when they get it back to their farmhouse, it gradually begins to dawn that their beautiful picture is acting as a portal for past misfortunes, with the result that their lives and those of their children become progressively evermore of a hell. To make matters worse, their daughter's nanny feels her love for John is more than she can bear, and leaves without saying goodbye. John's sadness suddenly becomes intensified when, several years later, he learns she's dying of cancer. When he's finally informed of her flight to a clinic in Florida he realises he will never see her again. But then, despite all the odds, one definitive day, he does.