(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

Young Lady Brumpton was quite happy when her husband, the Earl of Brumpton, died suddenly. A second wife, many years her husband’s junior, she could look forward to a lively life as soon as her mourning period was over. Indeed, she intended to begin enjoying life discreetly long before she doffed her widow’s weeds. Meanwhile she had the enjoyment of the earl’s entire fortune, for she had persuaded him to disown his only son, Lord Hardy. The task had been easy. The elderly earl, foolishly fond of his pretty young wife, never guessed that she had been plotting against his own best interests and his son’s.

The earl’s servant, Trusty, remained with his master’s corpse when everyone else left it. Much to his surprise and joy, he discovered that the earl had only lapsed into a coma, and before long the nobleman regained consciousness and health. Trusty, seeing an opportunity to prove that his mistress was an intriguer and an adulteress, persuaded the earl to remain hidden and allow everyone to believe he was really dead. The only person taken into the secret was the funeral director, who agreed to keep silent after the earl paid him an amount equal to what the funeral charges would have been.

In addition to planning ways for the enjoyment of her late husband’s wealth, Lady Brumpton also gave some thought to the problem of ridding herself of the earl’s two teen-age wards, Lady Sharlot and Lady Harriot. The girls were a very real threat to her freedom and to a portion of the earl’s estate, since Lady Sharlot was in love with the earl’s son and Lady Harriot with his friend Mr. Campley.

Despite the fact that he had been put out of his father’s house, Lord Hardy, an officer in the army, refused to believe ill of his father, and with Campley’s help he plotted to release the two girls from his stepmother’s clutches before some evil should befall them. He was right in his fear; Lady Brumpton planned to have the girls spirited away and seduced by her brother and a friend.

Help for Lord Hardy and Campley came unexpectedly from Trusty, who went to Lord Hardy’s apartment and outlined his plan to the earl’s son. Lord Hardy, he said, was to send a detachment of troops to the earl’s house and the casket containing the earl’s body would be turned over to the soldiers. In the meantime, with the help of Lord Hardy’s servant and a French seamstress, Campley managed to win Lady Harriot’s confidence and persuaded her to escape with him from the Brumpton mansion. They escaped by dressing in the clothes of the French seamstress and a servant girl.

The earl, hidden in the house, eavesdropped on various conversations and...

(The entire section is 1099 words.)