Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
One night, the watchmen of Westminster arrest Captain William Booth, seizing him as he is attempting to rescue a stranger being attacked by two ruffians. The footpads secure their own liberty by bribing the constables, but Booth is brought before an unjust magistrate. His story is a straightforward one, but because he is penniless and shabbily dressed, the judge dismisses his tale and sentences him to prison. Booth is desperate; there is no one he knows in London to whom he can turn for aid. His plight is made worse by his reception at the prison. His fellow prisoners strip him of his coat, and a pickpocket steals his snuffbox.
He is still smarting from these indignities when he sees a fashionably dressed young woman being escorted through the gates. Flourishing a bag of gold in the face of her keepers, she demands a private room in the prison. Her appearance and manner remind Booth of Miss Matthews, an old friend of questionable background whom he did not see for several years; but when the woman passes him without a sign of recognition, he believes himself mistaken.
Shortly afterward, a guard brings him a guinea in a small parcel, and with the money, Booth is able to redeem his coat and snuffbox, but he loses the rest of the money in a card game. Booth is once again penniless when a keeper comes to lead him to Miss Matthews, for it is indeed she. Seeing his wretched condition as he stands by the prison gate, she sent him the guinea. Reunited under these distressing circumstances, they proceed to relate the stories of their experiences. Miss Matthews tells how she is committed to await sentence for a penknife attack on a soldier who seduced her under false promises of marriage.
Booth, in turn, tells this story. He met Miss Amelia Harris, a beautiful girl whose mother at first opposed her daughter’s marriage to a penniless soldier. The young couple eloped but were later reconciled with Amelia’s mother through the efforts of Dr. Harrison, a wise and kindly curate. Shortly before a child was to be born to Amelia, Booth’s regiment was ordered to Gibraltar. Reluctantly he left Amelia in the care of her mother and her older sister, Elizabeth. At Gibraltar, Booth earned the good opinion of his officers by his bravery. Wounded in one of the battles of the campaign, he became very ill. Amelia, learning of his condition, left her child with her mother and sister and went to Gibraltar to nurse her sick husband. Then Amelia, in her turn, fell sick. Wishing to take her to a milder climate, Booth wrote to Mrs. Harris for money, but in reply he received only a rude note from Elizabeth. He hoped to get the money from his army friend, Major James, but that gentleman was away at the time. Finally, he borrowed the money from Sergeant Atkinson, his friend and Amelia’s foster brother, and went with his wife to Montpelier. There the couple made friends with an amusing English officer named Colonel Bath and his sister.
Joy at the birth of a second child, a girl, was dampened by a letter from Dr. Harrison, who wrote to tell them that old Mrs. Harris was dead and that she left her property to Amelia’s sister. The Booths returned home, to be greeted so rudely by Elizabeth that they withdrew from the house. Without the help of Dr. Harrison, they would have been destitute. Harrison set Booth up as a gentleman farmer and tried to help him make the best of his half-pay from the army. Booth, however, made enemies among the surrounding farmers because of several small mistakes. Dr. Harrison was traveling on the Continent at the time, and in his absence, Booth was reduced almost to bankruptcy. He came to London to try his fortunes...
(The entire section is 1494 words.)
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