Although Harry and George Warrington are twins, George is declared the heir to their father’s estate by virtue of having been born half an hour before his brother. Both are headstrong lads, greatly pampered by their widowed mother, Rachel Esmond Warrington, who manages her Virginia estate, Castlewood, much as she managed the mansion in the old country. She never lets her sons forget their high birth, and she herself had dropped the name of Warrington in favor of her birth name, Esmond, so that everyone would remember her noble rank. Rachel is a dictator on her plantation, and although she is respected by many, she is loved by few.
Harry and George are trained according to the place and the time. They learn to ride, to shoot, and to gamble like gentlemen, but they have little formal education other than a small knowledge of Latin and French. Their mother hopes they might pattern themselves after Colonel George Washington, who is their neighbor and her close friend. Harry worships Washington from his youth to his death, but George and Colonel Washington are never to be friends.
When General Braddock arrives from England to command the English troops in the war against the French, Washington and George join his forces. Although Harry is a better soldier, George represents the family because of his position as elder son. Braddock is defeated, and George is reported captured and killed by the French. George’s mother blames Washington for not guarding her son, and Washington is no longer welcome at Castlewood.
Upon George’s death, Harry becomes the heir, and his mother sends him to visit his relatives in England. There he meets his mother’s kinsman, Lord Castlewood; her half sister, Baroness Bernstein; and Will, Maria, and Fanny Esmond, his cousins. Of all of his relatives, only Baroness Bernstein is fond of him. Harry and Will are enemies from their first meeting, and the rest of the family thinks him a savage and tolerate him only because he will some day inherit the estate in Virginia. Harry thinks he is in love with Maria, who is his mother’s age, and sends her many gifts and passionate letters declaring himself hers and asking for her hand in marriage.
Harry is the toast of the country. He spends money lavishly on fine clothes and horses and at first wins thousands of pounds at cards; but when his luck turns and he loses all of his money, most of his former friends have only unkind words for him. Matters become so desperate that he is jailed for his debts, and Baroness Bernstein is the only one of his relatives who offers to help him. Nevertheless, there is a string attached to her...
(The entire section is 1080 words.)