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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1809

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Lord Clonbrony is an absentee landlord who owns large but encumbered Irish estates. He lives in England because his wife, an extravagant, ambitious woman, will have nothing to do with Ireland or the Irish. People of wealth and position laugh at her and the silly determination with which she apes English manners and speech, and they totally ignore Lord Clonbrony. A respected peer in Dublin and a good landlord when he lived on his own estates, he is a cipher in his wife’s fashionable world. As a result, he associates with such questionable and dissipated companions as Sir Terence O’Fay. Little is known about their son and the Clonbrony heir, Lord Colambre, except that he is a student at Cambridge and a young man of considerable expectations from a distant relative. A cousin, Grace Nugent, is well thought of because of her beauty and good manners.

Lady Clonbrony is anxious to have her son marry Miss Broadhurst, a young woman of much sense and large fortune. Although Lady Clonbrony and Mrs. Broadhurst do their best to promote the match, the young people, while friendly, are not drawn to each other. Lord Colambre is attracted to Grace’s amiability and charm, and Miss Broadhurst respects his feelings for his cousin.

In execution of a commission for Arthur Berryl, a Cambridge friend, Lord Colambre goes to the establishment of Mr. Mordicai, a coachmaker and moneylender. There he overhears that his father’s financial affairs are not in good order. When questioned, Lord Clonbrony admits that his situation is grave but that he relies on Sir Terence, often his intermediary with his creditors, to prevent legal action against him. The father reflects with some bitterness that there would be no need for such expediency if landowners would live on their own estates and kill their own mutton.

Lord Colambre sees for himself the results of reckless borrowing when Sir John Berryl, the father of his friend, is taken suddenly ill. Mordicai, demanding immediate payment of a large debt, attempts to have the sick man arrested and thrown into prison. Only Lord Colambre’s presence and firm words of rebuff keep the moneylender from carrying out his intention. Mordicai leaves with threats that Lord Colambre will someday regret his insults. Sir John Berryl dies that night, leaving his family almost penniless.

Deeply concerned for his family’s welfare, Lord Colambre decides to visit Ireland to see for himself the state of his father’s affairs. Lady Clonbrony uses every possible argument to dissuade her son, and Sir Terence suggests that the young man can best help his father by marrying a woman as wealthy as Miss Broadhurst. When Lord Colambre leaves suddenly for Ireland, his mother, refusing to give up her matrimonial plans for her son, allows her friends to believe that he went to attend to private business in connection with his marriage settlement. Since many people expect him to marry Miss Broadhurst, that story satisfies the Clonbrony creditors for the time being.

Arriving in Dublin, Lord Colambre meets Sir James Brooke, a British official well informed on Irish affairs, and the two men become good friends. The young nobleman, pleased with everything he hears and sees, is unable to understand his mother’s detestation of the Irish. He tries to meet Nicholas Garraghty, his father’s agent, but the man is away on business. Instead, he is entertained by the agent’s sister, a silly, affected woman named Mrs. Raffarty.

He also meets Lady Dashfort, who sees in him a possible husband for her widowed daughter, Lady Isabel. Although he hears no favorable reports of Lady Dashfort or her daughter, he becomes a frequent visitor in their home. At last, interested in securing an alliance for her daughter, Lady Dashfort proposes that he accompany her to Killpatrickstown, where she is going to visit Lord and Lady Killpatrick. It is her intention to show him Irish life at its worst so that he will have no desire to live on the Clonbrony estates after his marriage to Lady Isabel. Aware of his affection for Grace, Lady Dashfort arranges matters so that Lady Killpatrick asks her to exhibit her genealogical table, which was prepared as evidence in a lawsuit. She does so with seeming reluctance, on the grounds that she is ashamed of her remote connection with the scandalous St. Omars. She then reveals that Grace’s mother was a St. Omar.

Lord Colambre writes to his mother to ask the truth. She replies that the girl’s mother was a St. Omar but that she took the name Reynolds after an affair with a gentleman of that name. When the Reynolds family refused to acknowledge her child, she married Mr. Nugent, who generously gave the daughter his name. The young man realizes that this disclosure puts a barrier between Grace and him.

Through the Killpatricks, Lord Colambre meets Count O’Halloran, who is regarded by his neighbors as an oddity because of his learning, his fondness for animals, and his liking of the Irish. When the count returns the visit, Lady Dashfort takes issue with him because he criticizes the improper conduct of an English officer with whom both are acquainted. Lady Dashfort’s lack of good manners and moral sense and the further revelation of Lady Isabel as a malicious flirt show the two women to Lord Colambre in their true light. He decides to leave the Dashforts and continue his tour alone.

Count O’Halloran prevails on Lord Colambre, however, to accompany him to Oranmore. There Lord Colambre finds a family of taste and breeding, interested in affairs of the day and the welfare of their tenants. Stimulated by the example of Lord and Lady Oranmore, he plans to go immediately to his father’s estate, but incognito, so that he can observe more accurately the conditions of the tenantry and the conduct of the estate agents.

He finds the village of Colambre neat and prosperous, well looked after by Mr. Burke, the agent. After a dinner with the Burkes, the agent shows him around the estate with evident pride in all he accomplished. He regrets, however, that the absentee owner takes no interest in the land or the tenants, aside from the revenues derived from them. Burke’s fears that Lord Clonbrony is displeased with his management are confirmed by the arrival of a letter in which his lordship dismisses the agent and directs him to turn over his accounts to Nicholas Garraghty.

Lord Colambre goes on to Clonbrony, where he learns from a driver that the tenants hate and fear Nicholas Garraghty, the factor, and Dennis Garraghty, his brother and assistant. When his carriage breaks down, Lord Colambre spends the night with Mrs. O’Neill, a widow whose niece was named after Grace Nugent. The next day, the young nobleman is present when Dennis Garraghty refuses to renew a lease promised to Mrs. O’Neill’s son Brian. The arrival of Mrs. Raffarty and her identification of Lord Colambre causes Dennis Garraghty to change his mind quickly. Disgusted by the man’s methods of doing business and by the unkempt, poverty-stricken appearance of the village, Lord Colambre writes to his father and asked him to have no further dealings with the Garraghtys.

During the voyage back to England, Lord Colambre’s ship is delayed by a storm, so that the Garraghtys arrive in London ahead of him. He returns, however, in time to confront the agent and his brother with a report on their transactions. Hearing his son’s story, Lord Clonbrony would have dismissed them on the spot if he had possessed the cash necessary to settle their entangled accounts. Lord Colambre then asks his father and Sir Terence for a full accounting of the distressed nobleman’s obligations. In return, he proposes to settle the debt with the inheritance he will receive when he comes of age, a date only a few days off, if his father will end all business relations with the Garraghtys and go to Ireland to live. Lord Clonbrony welcomes the proposal, but his wife, when she hears of it, treats the idea with scorn. She is already displeased with her son because he did not press his suit with Miss Broadhurst, who is now to marry his friend, Sir Arthur Berryl. When Lord Colambre expresses pleasure over his friend’s good fortune, Lady Clonbrony retires in disgust.

Under persuasion by every member of her family, Lady Clonbrony at last ungraciously agrees to return to Ireland. Meanwhile, Lord Colambre, busy with his father’s accounts, discovers that many of the London bills were deliberately overcharged and that Nicholas Garraghty is, in reality, his lordship’s debtor, not his creditor, as the agent claims. With ready money sent by Lady Berryl, the former Miss Broadhurst, through her husband, Lord Colambre is able to settle his father’s most pressing debts, and Sir Terence is able to reclaim Mordicai’s bond at a discount. After Nicholas Garraghty was dismissed in disgrace, Mr. Burke is appointed agent of the Colambre and Clonbrony estates.

On the day he comes of age, Lord Colambre’s first duty is to execute a bond for five thousand pounds in Grace’s name, to repay her the inheritance that was lent to her guardian years before. The young man’s secret regret is that he cannot offer his heart with his cousin’s restored property.

Arriving in London, Count O’Halloran calls on Lord Colambre. When the young nobleman confides his true feelings for Grace and tells his friend something of her story, the count recalls Captain Reynolds, whom he knew in Austria. Dying, the officer told of his secret marriage with Miss St. Omar and entrusted to the count a packet of private papers, among them a marriage certificate. The count gave the papers to the English ambassador, and they passed in turn into the keeping of Sir James Brooke, the executor of the ambassador’s estate. Acting on this information, Lord Colambre goes to Sir James and obtains the papers, which were never carefully examined. When he presents them to the dead officer’s father, old Mr. Reynolds accepts the proof of his granddaughter’s legitimacy with delight and declares his intention to make her his heiress. Because Grace never knew of the shadow cast on her birth, Lady Berryl is delegated to tell her the whole story, a task that young woman performs with great delicacy and tact.

Acquainted with the true state of affairs, Lady Clonbrony offers no objections to her son’s marriage to Grace. Lord Clonbrony and his wife return to Ireland and there, in due time, Grace becomes Viscountess Colambre, much to the satisfaction of Lady Clonbrony, who sees so happily fulfilled her hopes that her son would marry an heiress.