Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1021
When old Jonathan Oldbuck of Monkbarns first meets young Lovel, he is impressed by the young man’s good manners and conduct, but he is mystified by the little he can learn of Lovel’s past. It is obvious that Lovel is not the boy’s real name and that there is something in his history of which he is ashamed.
From his good friend Sir Arthur Wardour, Oldbuck at last learns that the young man is the illegitimate son of unknown parents. Although a benefactor has settled a large estate on him, he lives in solitude and disgrace because of his questionable ancestry. To make matters worse, he is in love with Sir Arthur’s daughter, Isabella. Although the girl loves him, she will not accept him because she knows her father will not permit an alliance with a man of unknown and illegitimate origins. Even after Lovel saves her life and that of her father when they are trapped by the tides, she gives him no more than the thanks due him for his bravery.
Sir Arthur is in serious financial straits, in debt to dozens of tradesmen and friends, among them Oldbuck. To restore his fortune, he has fallen into a plot prepared by Dousterswivel, an evil magician who has promised his aid in finding valuable minerals on Sir Arthur’s property. Sir Arthur, forced to put up money before Dousterswivel will work his magic, has already borrowed one hundred pounds from Oldbuck, who accurately suspects that Dousterswivel is a crook.
Before the magician can attempt to work his magic, Oldbuck’s nephew, Captain Hector M’Intyre, comes home for a visit. A hotheaded young man, he accuses Lovel of lying about the little he has told of his past. Hector challenges Lovel to a duel, and although Lovel does everything he can to prevent it, the duel is fought. Having apparently wounded Hector fatally, Lovel is forced to flee the country on a boat provided by a friend. Hector recovers, but Lovel does not hear the news until much later. He has been aided in his flight by Edie Ochiltree, a beggar who knows all the secrets of the countryside. While Edie is hiding Lovel in a cave, they overhear Dousterswivel trying to convince Sir Arthur to put up more money to find buried treasure in the cave.
When Sir Arthur asks Oldbuck for another hundred pounds to give to Dousterswivel so that he can get the treasure from the cave, Oldbuck insists that they themselves go to the cave and dig for the treasure. Although the magician tries to prevent the excursion, Oldbuck will not be denied. Everyone present is completely surprised when, after much digging, old Edie the beggar sticks a pick into the ground and hits a chest. When the chest is opened, the bewildered spectators find a fortune in coin; Sir Arthur is saved from disaster. Edie tricks Dousterswivel into digging for hours for more treasure that Edie says is also buried in the cave. In addition, he arranges with a friend to have a specter appear and frighten the magician.
About the same time, an old woman in the neighborhood sends for the wealthy and powerful earl of Glenallan. Before she dies, she wants to clear her conscience of a terrible wrong she has done the earl. When he was a young man, he was in love with a girl whom his mother hated. The earl had secretly married the girl before his mother, in a spiteful attempt to break up the romance, told her son that the girl was his own sister. Because of certain letters and the perjured testimony of servants, including the old woman telling the story, the earl had believed his mother’s story. The young woman had taken her own life, but before she died, she had given birth to a male child. A servant had whisked the child away, and the old woman did not know whether he had lived or died. The earl, who had lived a life of misery because of the horrible crime he thought he had committed in marrying his own sister, was joyful at the old crone’s information, though he grieved at the useless death of his wife. He tells the story to Oldbuck and asks his help in determining whether the child lived.
While Oldbuck and the earl of Glenallan are investigating, news comes that the French are about to raid the Scottish coast. Hector, who is now fully recovered from the wound suffered at Lovel’s hands, prepares to gather troops and meet Major Neville, an officer in charge of local defense. Lovel has not been heard from since the duel, and there are rumors that he died at sea. Then old Edie brings the news that the ship carrying Lovel has put in to shore and that all aboard are safe. From his remarks to Oldbuck, the old gentleman learns that the money found in the cave on Sir Arthur’s land was buried there by Lovel and Edie after they overheard the conversation between Dousterswivel and Sir Arthur. Lovel, hearing of Sir Arthur’s financial difficulties, has chosen that way of helping Isabella’s father to avoid embarrassing the old gentleman by offering him money outright.
When Major Neville appears to take charge of the garrison, everyone is amazed to see that he is in reality Lovel. He brings word that there will be no battle. A watchman has mistaken a bonfire for a signal that the French are coming. As they all stand talking, the earl of Glenallan notes the young man’s marked resemblance to his dead wife. Through old papers and the words of old servants of the Glenallan family, the earl learns that Lovel is without doubt his son. While a baby, the boy was cared for by the earl’s brother and, unknown to the earl, he had inherited his uncle’s fortune.
Lovel is restored to his rightful place, and within a month he and Isabella are married. From that time on, they all live in peace, prosperity, and joy.
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