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On a desolate, snowbound Canadian farm, Jill Banford and Ellen March struggle to make their living by raising chickens. The more dependent and sensitive Jill tends to the kitchen chores and the bookkeeping, while the stronger and self-sufficient Ellen handles the heavier work--rebuilding broken fences, chopping wood, and stalking the red fox that raids their chicken coops. Jill seems happy with this arrangement, but Ellen is frustrated, particularly sexually, and she resorts to masturbation for satisfaction. One night a merchant seaman, Paul Grenfel, arrives to visit his grandfather, the deceased former owner of the farm. Having no other plans, Paul persuades the women to let him spend his leave with them and help with the work. Trouble develops when his obvious attraction to Ellen arouses Jill's bitter resentment. During a heated argument between the two women Paul takes a shotgun, goes out into the night, and kills the fox. Then, on the eve of his departure, he takes Ellen to an abandoned cabin, makes love to her, and urges her to go away with him. But Ellen cannot bring herself to abandon Jill. When Paul finally leaves to return to the sea, the depressed Ellen permits Jill to make love to her; and, as time passes, the women resume their former life. Ellen writes Paul, rejecting his marriage proposal. Then, while they are chopping down a dying oak, Paul suddenly returns. Taking the axe from Ellen, he warns Jill to step back lest the tree twist when it falls. But Jill petulantly ignores his advice and is killed as the giant oak crashes to the ground. Once Ellen has buried Jill and sold the farm, she goes with Paul. All that remains of the life the three persons shared is the skin of the dead fox, still hanging on the barn door where Paul nailed it.