(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

Geoffrey Lester, a roving and dissipated man, ran away from his wife and only son. His brother, Rowland Lester, took the forsaken family into his own home at Grassdale. Both brothers’ wives soon died, and kindly old Rowland took over the responsibility of rearing not only his two daughters, Madeline and Ellinor, but also his young nephew Walter. As the children grew up, Walter fell in love with Madeline, but his love was not returned. It was Ellinor who idealized her cousin as a perfect young man.

One day, a stranger came to Grassdale, a crude, ugly man who was to affect all their lives. Startled by the man while they were out walking, Madeline and Ellinor fled to the house of Eugene Aram, a young recluse and scholar whom they knew slightly. Aram did his best to make the two sisters comfortable and went to secure a carriage to take them home. During his absence, the stranger came to the cottage and asked if Eugene Aram were in. He was sent away. That night, he appeared again at the cottage. Aram recognized him as a man named Houseman, whom he had known under dreadful circumstances years before.

In spite of his solitary preoccupation with science and philosophy, Aram began to visit the Lester family. Before long, it was obvious to Walter that Madeline and Aram were falling in love, and Walter begged Rowland to let him go away for a while. Rowland, sensing his nephew’s feelings, allowed him to go. Before he left, Walter had a long talk with Madeline and warned her to carefully consider her fondness for Aram, who he felt would not make her happy. Madeline took his advice as an insult to her intelligence, and the anger she showed went far to dispel the love Walter had felt for her.

Walter and Bunting, a servant, set out for London. Old Rowland had given Walter several letters of introduction to his friends there and had advised the boy to learn what he could about the fortunes of his lost father. From an old friend of his uncle, Walter learned that Geoffrey Lester had been to India, had returned, and under the name of Clarke had gone to Yorkshire to collect a legacy left him by a friend he had known in India. Walter and Bunting started for Yorkshire to trace Geoffrey’s whereabouts.

Meanwhile, Houseman reappeared in Grassdale and again bothered Aram. In past times, Houseman had been connected with Aram in a way that Aram did not wish to have announced to the world. Aram knew that Houseman was involved in robbery and worse, but he was not in a position to expose the man. Houseman promised to leave the country if Aram would settle a yearly allowance on Houseman’s daughter, the only person in the world whom he loved or who loved him. Aram went to London, where he was able to raise the sum demanded by Houseman. When he returned to Grassdale, Aram thought that he was rid of Houseman forever.

In Yorkshire, Walter learned that his father had been seen last in the village of Knaresborough. On the way there, he and Bunting met Houseman, whom Walter recognized as a man who had robbed him on a previous occasion. Bunting recognized him as a man who had been in Grassdale. Having learned that his daughter was dying, Houseman was hastening to Knaresborough, where she lay on her deathbed. Because his horse had gone lame, Houseman begged Walter to lend him his, and Walter, despite Bunting’s objections, was so moved by the man’s story that he did so.

When they arrived at Knaresborough, the two travelers learned that...

(The entire section is 1421 words.)