Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1494
One night, the watchmen of Westminster arrest Captain William Booth, seizing him as he is attempting to rescue a stranger being attacked by two ruffians. The footpads secure their own liberty by bribing the constables, but Booth is brought before an unjust magistrate. His story is a straightforward one, but because he is penniless and shabbily dressed, the judge dismisses his tale and sentences him to prison. Booth is desperate; there is no one he knows in London to whom he can turn for aid. His plight is made worse by his reception at the prison. His fellow prisoners strip him of his coat, and a pickpocket steals his snuffbox.
He is still smarting from these indignities when he sees a fashionably dressed young woman being escorted through the gates. Flourishing a bag of gold in the face of her keepers, she demands a private room in the prison. Her appearance and manner remind Booth of Miss Matthews, an old friend of questionable background whom he did not see for several years; but when the woman passes him without a sign of recognition, he believes himself mistaken.
Shortly afterward, a guard brings him a guinea in a small parcel, and with the money, Booth is able to redeem his coat and snuffbox, but he loses the rest of the money in a card game. Booth is once again penniless when a keeper comes to lead him to Miss Matthews, for it is indeed she. Seeing his wretched condition as he stands by the prison gate, she sent him the guinea. Reunited under these distressing circumstances, they proceed to relate the stories of their experiences. Miss Matthews tells how she is committed to await sentence for a penknife attack on a soldier who seduced her under false promises of marriage.
Booth, in turn, tells this story. He met Miss Amelia Harris, a beautiful girl whose mother at first opposed her daughter’s marriage to a penniless soldier. The young couple eloped but were later reconciled with Amelia’s mother through the efforts of Dr. Harrison, a wise and kindly curate. Shortly before a child was to be born to Amelia, Booth’s regiment was ordered to Gibraltar. Reluctantly he left Amelia in the care of her mother and her older sister, Elizabeth. At Gibraltar, Booth earned the good opinion of his officers by his bravery. Wounded in one of the battles of the campaign, he became very ill. Amelia, learning of his condition, left her child with her mother and sister and went to Gibraltar to nurse her sick husband. Then Amelia, in her turn, fell sick. Wishing to take her to a milder climate, Booth wrote to Mrs. Harris for money, but in reply he received only a rude note from Elizabeth. He hoped to get the money from his army friend, Major James, but that gentleman was away at the time. Finally, he borrowed the money from Sergeant Atkinson, his friend and Amelia’s foster brother, and went with his wife to Montpelier. There the couple made friends with an amusing English officer named Colonel Bath and his sister.
Joy at the birth of a second child, a girl, was dampened by a letter from Dr. Harrison, who wrote to tell them that old Mrs. Harris was dead and that she left her property to Amelia’s sister. The Booths returned home, to be greeted so rudely by Elizabeth that they withdrew from the house. Without the help of Dr. Harrison, they would have been destitute. Harrison set Booth up as a gentleman farmer and tried to help him make the best of his half-pay from the army. Booth, however, made enemies among the surrounding farmers because of several small mistakes. Dr. Harrison was traveling on the Continent at the time, and in his absence, Booth was reduced almost to bankruptcy. He came to London to try his fortunes anew. He preceded Amelia, found modest lodgings, and wrote her of his location. At this point, the latest misfortune landed him in prison. At the end of Booth’s story, Miss Matthews sympathizes with his unfortunate situation, congratulates him on his wife and children, and pays the jailer to let Booth spend the next few nights with her in her cell.
Booth and Miss Matthews are shortly released from prison. The soldier wounded by Miss Matthews completely recovers and drops his charges against her. Miss Matthews also secures Booth’s release, and the two are preparing to leave prison when Amelia arrives. She comes up from the country to save him, and his release is a welcome surprise. The Booths establish themselves in London. Shortly afterward, Booth meets his former officer, now Colonel James, who in the meantime marries Miss Bath and grows quickly tired of her. Mrs. James and Amelia resume their old friendship. Booth, afraid that Miss Matthews will inform Amelia of their affair in prison, tells Colonel James of his difficulties and fears. The colonel gives him a loan and tells him not to worry. Colonel James is also interested in Miss Matthews, but he is unable to help Booth by his intercession. Miss Matthews continues to send Booth reproachful, revealing letters, which might at any time be intercepted by Amelia.
While walking in the park one day, the Booths meet Sergeant Atkinson. He joins their household to help care for the children, and soon he starts a mild flirtation with Mrs. Ellison, Booth’s landlady. Mrs. Ellison proves useful to the Booths; a lord who also comes to visit her advances money to pay some of Booth’s debts. Meanwhile, Miss Matthews spitefully turns Colonel James against Booth. Colonel Bath, hearing his brother-in-law’s poor opinion of Booth, decides that Booth is neither an officer nor a gentleman and challenges him to a duel. Colonel Bath strongly believes in a code of honor, however, and when Booth vanquishes him in the duel without serious injury, the colonel is so impressed by Booth’s gallantry that he forgives him and brings about a reconciliation between James and Booth.
During this time, Mrs. Ellison tries to arrange an assignation between Amelia and the nobleman who gave Booth money to pay his gambling debts. Amelia is innocently misled by her false friends. The nobleman’s plan to meet Amelia secretly at a masquerade, however, is thwarted by another neighbor, Mrs. Bennet. This woman, who is a boarder in Mrs. Ellison’s house, also met the noble lord, encountering him at a masquerade and drinking the drugged wine he provided. To prevent Amelia’s ruin in the same manner, Mrs. Bennet comes to warn her friend. Then she informs Amelia that she recently married Sergeant Atkinson, whom Amelia thought to be in love with Mrs. Ellison. Amelia’s joy at learning of the plot, which she now plans to escape, and of the marriage is marred by the news that Booth is again in prison for debt, this time on a warrant of their old friend Dr. Harrison.
Amelia soon discovers that Dr. Harrison was misled by false rumors of Booth’s extravagance and jailed him to stop his rash spending of money. Learning the truth, Dr. Harrison allows Booth to be released from prison.
On the night of the masquerade, Amelia remains at home but sends Mrs. Atkinson dressed in her costume. At the dance, Mrs. Atkinson is able to fool not only the lord but also Colonel James. There are many complications of the affair, and almost every relationship is misunderstood. Booth falls in with an old friend and loses a large sum of money to him. Again, he becomes worried about being put in jail. Then he becomes involved in a duel with Colonel James over Miss Matthews, whom Booth visited only at her insistence. Before the duel can take place, Booth is again imprisoned for debt, and Dr. Harrison is forced to clear his name with Colonel James. Finally James forgives Booth, and Miss Matthews promises never to bother him again.
Called by chance into a strange house to hear the deathbed confession of a man named Robinson, Dr. Harrison learns that Robinson was at one time a clerk to a lawyer named Murphy who made Mrs. Harris’s will. He learns also that the will, which left Amelia penniless, is a false one prepared by Elizabeth and Murphy. Dr. Harrison has Robinson write a confession so that Amelia can get the money that is rightfully hers. Murphy is quickly brought to trial and convicted of forgery.
Booth’s troubles are now almost over. He and Amelia return home with Dr. Harrison to confront Elizabeth with their knowledge of her scheme. Elizabeth flees to France, where Amelia, relenting, sends her an annual allowance. Booth’s adventures finally teach him not to gamble, and he settles down with his faithful Amelia to a quiet and prosperous life blessed with many children and the invaluable friendship of Dr. Harrison and the Atkinsons.
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