(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

Hugh Littlepage and his Uncle Ro, the owner of Satanstoe and Lilacsbush, had been traveling through Europe and the East for five years, and they had not heard from their family in America for eighteen months. Upon arriving at their apartment in Paris, they received a bundle of letters and packages from the family. Among other things, the letters told them that the Littlepages’ Ravensnest estate was in danger from tenants who had formed a terrorist party known as the “Injins.” Since Hugh was now master of the estate and the rents were due in the fall, he and his uncle decided to return home early, even though they were not expected before autumn. They decided to travel under the name of Davidson in order to keep their return a secret.

Arriving in New York, they went to see the Littlepage agent, Jack Dunning, who informed them that the estate was threatened from two sides. On the one hand, there were the Ravensnest tenants led by the demagogue lawyer Seneca Newcome; on the other, there were the Albany politicians, who depended on the tenants for votes. The politicians had already raised the taxes on the estate, and the tenants were petitioning for a removal of the rents and a chance to buy the property at their own low prices. To speed up the process, the tenants had resorted to terrorizing the landlords with tar buckets, rifles, and calico hoods. To mask their greed for land, they claimed that their activities were carried on in the name of liberty, equality, and justice.

Because it would be dangerous to visit Ravensnest openly, Hugh and his uncle disguised themselves as a watch peddler and an organ-grinder, acquired broken German accents, and started for Ravensnest. On the boat to Albany, they met Seneca Newcome, who, thinking that they might make good Injins, invited them to Ravensnest. They got off at Albany and went from there to Troy. In that city, they made the acquaintance of the Reverend Mr. Warren and his daughter Mary. In his new role as an organ-grinder, Hugh invented a false history for himself and his uncle, a story accepted by the Warrens. Hugh soon learned that the Warrens lived at Ravensnest, where Mr. Warren was an Episcopal clergyman, and that Mary was a close friend of Hugh’s sister Patt. Mary proved to be a charming, well-bred girl in striking contrast to Opportunity Newcome, who was also present at the inn. After Seneca Newcome joined the group, the conversation turned from Opportunity’s pretentious learning to antirentism. Mary and her father argued gracefully and well in marked contrast to Seneca’s and Opportunity’s ill-constructed logic.

After a journey by train and carriages, Hugh and his uncle arrived in Ravensnest. Still in their new roles as peddler and organ-grinder, they traveled about the area to see for themselves how matters stood. At the tavern where they stopped overnight, they heard two men arguing over antirentism. While a lawyer took a mild stand against it, Hall, a mechanic, stood firmly against it and the greed behind it.

After a day’s walk, the travelers arrived at Ravensnest manor. They decided, however, to retain their disguises and visit the two old men on the place, the Indian, Susquesus, and the black servant, Jaap. While they were at the hut of these faithful old retainers, Hugh’s grandmother, Mrs. Ursula Littlepage, his sister Patt, Mary Warren, and his uncle’s two wards, Henrietta Coldbrook and Anne Marston, rode up. None penetrated the disguises. After the others had gone, Susquesus revealed that he knew who Hugh and his uncle were, but he promised secrecy.

The two also visited the Miller farm where they learned that Tom Miller was hostile to antirentism and that a farmhand of his strongly favored it. The farmhand, Joshua Brigham, was extremely greedy, Miller pointed out. While they were at the Miller farm, the five women again rode up, and Uncle Ro showed them some watches. Mrs. Littlepage, who wished to buy a very expensive watch for Mary, told them that they could receive payment for the watch at the manor.

That evening, still dressed as peddlers, they went to the Littlepage home. Hugh, asked to play his flute, performed very well, but when the flute was passed around, his grandmother recognized it. When she drew her grandson aside he confessed to the deception. Soon he and his uncle were reunited with Mrs. Littlepage and Patt, who also promised secrecy. Later that evening, Hugh slept in the Miller house next to Joshua Brigham. Drawn into a...

(The entire section is 1832 words.)