(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

Digby Grand’s father, Sir Peregrine Grand of Haverley Hall, had one fond wish with respect to his son: he wanted Digby to be a man of fashion and to know his position in society. With that in mind, he decided that when Digby, then a youngster at Eton, should finish school, he would be commissioned in the British Army. Digby, taken with the idea, wished to have his appointment made at once.

As luck had it, Digby met General Sir Benjamin Burgonet, who was pleased with the young man. He made every effort to secure Digby’s commission. Within a few weeks, Digby received a letter announcing his commission in the army as an ensign in a regiment of infantry.

Digby Grand reported to his regiment’s headquarters in Scotland, where he rapidly adjusted to military life. Digby was an adventurous young man; he enjoyed sports and gambling and quickly became a sought-out addition to any party. He soon discovered, however, that the slim allowance provided to him by his father and his small pay as an ensign did not cover his large expenditures, and so he fell into the habit of gambling on horses, cards, and billiards to augment his income. Most of his fellow officers existed in much the same fashion.

While in Scotland, Digby had a narrow escape from marriage when an officer’s daughter, a woman in her thirties, persuaded Digby to become engaged. His friends saw through the woman’s plot, however, and rescued him from his predicament. He had the satisfaction of seeing her become instead the wife of Dubbs, the regimental drum major.

Shortly after that incident, Digby was sent to Canada for a tour of duty. Memorable events of that short tour were the slaughter of a huge bull moose and a love affair with a French-Canadian girl named Zoe. Colonel Cartouch, Digby’s commanding officer, befriended the high-spirited young man and prevented him from marrying the girl, because he felt that the teenage ensign was not yet ready for marriage.

Upon his return to England, Digby found himself with a new commission in Her Majesty’s service; his father had purchased a lieutenancy in the Life Guards for him during his absence in Canada. Digby was now in the most honored and social brigade in the service, the Guards being the units that were stationed in London. Within a short time, Digby had once again won a place in fashionable London life. He was voted into several of the choicest gambling clubs, appeared in the best society, and became accepted by some well-known people. One of his friends was a youthful peer named St. Heliers; another was an officer named Levanter; a third was Mrs. Mantrap, a woman who basked in the attentions of young men.

To maintain his life of ease, including gambling for high stakes, maintaining good rooms, drinking only the best wines, and buying expensive horses, required all of Digby’s resourcefulness. Because his resourcefulness was not sufficient at times, his friend Levanter introduced him to a...

(The entire section is 1215 words.)