Refused by one young lady in his youth, Christopher Glowry immediately marries another. His wife is cold and gloomy, and Nightmare Abbey is a fitting name for her house. Glowry finds relief from his unhappy life in food and drink, and when his lady dies, he is easily consoled by increasing his consumption of food and wine. She left one son, Scythrop, who is gloomy enough to suit his father and Nightmare Abbey. A university education has so stripped Scythrop of his thin veneer of social graces that he is rapidly becoming a country boor like his father.
While his father is away in London attending to an important lawsuit, Scythrop amuses himself by constructing miniature dungeons, trapdoors, and secret panels. One day, he discovers by chance an apartment in the main wing of the abbey that has no entrance or exit; through an error in construction, the apartment had remained hidden for many years. He imports a carpenter, and together they construct a cunning secret panel through which one could step from the library into the hidden apartment. Scythrop now has a private refuge for his gloomy meditations.
Miss Emily Girouette declines to marry Scythrop. In consequence, when his cousin Marionetta visits, she rapidly conquers the heart of the sad young man. Marionetta, however, has no fortune, and Glowry refuses to hear of the marriage, but Scythrop grows more enamored daily of his coquettish cousin.
Glowry views the increasing attachment of Scythrop and Marionetta with great concern. Finally, he tells Scythrop that the girl has to leave. Furious, Scythrop rushes to his tower and fills a human skull with Madeira wine. Confronting his father and holding high the skull, he declares in ringing tones that if Marionetta ever leaves Nightmare Abbey except of her own free will, he will drink the potion. Convinced that the skull contains poison, his father consents to have Marionetta stay on as a guest. Scythrop drinks the wine with gusto.
Glowry confides his troubles to his friend, Toobad, who agrees that marriage with Marionetta is unsuitable in every way. He proposes his own daughter, Celinda, a young woman then studying abroad, as a good match for Scythrop. With Glowry’s hearty approval, Toobad goes to London to meet his daughter and return with her to Nightmare Abbey. Celinda, however, refuses to have a husband chosen for her and flees from her domineering father. Toobad appears at the abbey...
(The entire section is 993 words.)