Summary (Masterplots, Definitive Revised Edition)
Squire Oldrents had ample reason to be happy: he owned a large estate from which he received a good income; he was beloved by the rich for his warm hospitality and by the poor for his generosity; he had two lovely daughters who were being courted by two very presentable young gentlemen. But the joy that he derived from these blessings was suddenly destroyed by a fortune-teller’s prediction that Oldrents’ daughters would become beggars. Oldrents’ friend Hearty, a gentleman who had seen better days but who always looked on the bright side of things, tried to cheer up the old man. As a result of his persuasiveness, Oldrents resolved to put on, at least, an outward show of good spirits.
A second source of worry for the squire was his steward, Springlove. As a youth Springlove had been a beggar, until Oldrents took him in and schooled him. During winters, Springlove had always been very diligent in his work. But with the arrival of May, every year he found some pretext to leave home. One year Oldrents met Springlove begging on the highway and thus discovered how his summers were spent. To break the young man of his wanderings, Oldrents had made him his steward, a position in which Springlove had done well. But now it was nearly May again, and Springlove announced that the call of nature was too insistent, and he must go a-begging.
One of Oldrents’ charities was the maintenance of an old barn as a guest house for wandering beggars. Rachel and Meriel, his daughters, had long watched these beggars and envied them their complete freedom. The girls were bored with their home life and further depressed by the low spirits of their father. Thus developed their plan for going with the beggars. Their two lovers, Vincent and Hilliard, who were afraid of losing the girls, agreed to accompany them. When they announced their intention to Springlove, he revealed the prophecy Oldrents had received. Now the girls felt that a brief sojourn with the beggars would have the additional advantage of bringing peace of mind to their father. In a letter to the old man they disclosed their project, but he, fearing that its contents might destroy his resolution to be happy, refused to open it.
The first night on the road dispelled any romantic notions that the four amateur beggars had about their new life. The two men, having spent an uneasy and sleepless night, would have gladly returned...
(The entire section is 982 words.)
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