Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Maud Ruthyn spends a lonely childhood in the great old house at Knowl. Her mother dies when she is very young, and her father, Austin Ruthyn, becomes a recluse who seldom leaves the grounds of his estate. Disappointed in Parliament many years earlier, he retires from public life to devote himself to scientific and literary studies. These lead him to Swedenborgianism, a doctrine suited to his eccentric and moral tastes. Maud knows him as a kindly but solitary and taciturn man.
For this reason, she never questions him about her uncle Silas, her father’s younger brother, who lives at Bartram-Haugh, a Derbyshire estate owned by Austin. His portrait as a handsome young man hangs in the oak room at Knowl, but from vague hints and whispers of the servants, she knows that there is a mystery surrounding this relative whom she never met, and that the scandal clouds her father’s life as well.
One of the few visitors at Knowl is Dr. Bryerly, a tall, ungainly man who always dresses in black and wears an untidy scratch wig. Like Maud’s father, he is a Swedenborgian. The girl is greatly in awe of him, but she knows that he has her father’s confidence. One day, Austin shows her the key to a locked cabinet in his study. He is soon to go on a journey, he says, and after his departure she is to give the key to Dr. Bryerly.
Maud is a little past seventeen years old when her father employs a new governess, Madame de la Rougierre, a tall,...
(The entire section is 1972 words.)
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