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Digby Grand Summary

(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 moneylender named Shadrach, who was quite willing to lend Digby money at a high rate of interest, the principal to be repaid when Digby inherited the family estates. Not once but many times Digby borrowed from Shadrach.

One day, while in charge of a small group of military police at parade, Digby met Flora Belmont, who had attended the parade with her father, a retired colonel. Immediately Digby fell in love, in spite of the fact that the colonel had little or nothing to pass on to his daughter in the way of a fortune.

On his twenty-first birthday, spurred on by his own love and that which Flora Belmont had declared for him, Digby went home to Haverley Hall to request a definite and sizable income from his father so that he and Flora could be married. Instead of being happy, Sir Peregrine was furious that Digby would even think of marrying anyone but an heiress, for the Grand estate was in poor financial condition and Sir Peregrine had been counting on a brilliant marriage by his son to recoup the family fortunes.

Downhearted, Digby returned to duty in London. To while away the time, he continued his old life, living beyond his means and borrowing money to pay his expenses. He even borrowed from Shadrach when his boyhood chum, Tom Spencer, who was studying for holy orders at Oxford, had to sign the notes with him. For a time, Digby had an affair with Coralie de Rivolte, a famous dancer, but that romance ended, though only after Digby had made an enemy of a scar-faced Spaniard who seemed to be the dancer’s relative.

Eventually, Digby got so deeply into debt that only a change of regiments could help him. As an officer in the Guards, he had too many social responsibilities, and he exchanged commissions with an officer in a dragoon regiment stationed in Kent, at some distance from London. Within a few weeks, he made still another move. Old General Sir Benjamin Burgonet, who had secured Digby’s original commission, made him his aide, and Digby prepared to go with the General to India. He was somewhat aghast, however, to learn that the girl who had married the drum major was now Lady Burgonet.

In spite of his precautions, Digby was unable to leave England without falling into the hands of Shadrach and other creditors, who had him imprisoned for debt. To satisfy his creditors, Digby had to sell his commission and give up all he owned. At that black hour, word came that Sir Peregrine had died, leaving Digby with the title and the estate. When the will was settled, however, it became apparent that the estate was too heavily in debt to be of any use to the new heir. To salvage himself, Digby had to sell the land; he inherited only the title.

He was saved by a meeting with Tom Spencer, who had been prevented from finishing his degree at Oxford by an arrest made for a note he had signed on Digby’s behalf. Spencer, far from being downcast, had become a successful wine merchant. He took Digby into the business with him, and the two built up a flourishing trade. By that time, Digby had acquired a great deal more discretion and a few gray hairs.

After some years, Digby ran across his old commanding officer, Colonel Cartouch. The Colonel was engaged in prosecuting a man who had forged checks on his name, and the two discovered that the man was married to Coralie de Rivolte, Digby’s old love. That surprise was not the end, for the Colonel also discovered that Coralie was his own daughter by a Spanish woman who had run away from him after killing her sister, whom she believed in love with Cartouch.

The appearance of Coralie reminded Digby of Flora Belmont, the girl whom his father had forbidden him to marry because she lacked a fortune. Digby found her in mourning for her father, but she was still single. Digby learned through friends that she had remained faithful to him. In a short time, they had made plans for their approaching marriage. Digby Grand was ready to be tamed.