(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

Melchisedec Harrington was a tailor with the bearing and manners of a great nobleman. When he died, his neighbors spoke fondly of him and wondered what his son, who was in Portugal, would do. His widow knew that the great Mel, as he was called, had left debts amounting to more than four thousand pounds, which Evan would want to repay. The boy was to go to Mr. Goren in London to learn the tailor’s trade.

There had been three daughters in the tailor’s household, each of whom had married so well that they had henceforth cut themselves apart from their father, a common tradesman. Harriet had married a brewer, Andrew Cogglesby; Caroline had married Major Strike, and Louisa had become the Countess de Saldar. The Countess decided that her brother Evan must also marry well, and she tried to ally him with Rose Jocelyn, who had money of her own.

When Mrs. Harrington told Evan about old Mel’s debts, the son consented to go to London and learn his trade from Mr. Goren; not even the Countess’ entreaties and assurances that Rose loved him could dissuade him from his course. Setting out for London on foot, he met Jack Raikes, an old school friend. They went to the Green Dragon Inn, where they joined a group of men at dinner. Old Tom Cogglesby, brother of Andrew, the brewer, presided. Among those present were Harry Jocelyn, Rose’s brother, and Ferdinand Laxley, his friend. Evan and Jack got into a drunken brawl involving much name-calling and many threats. The gentlemen present scoffed at Evan’s choice of trade. Laxley challenged Evan to a duel, but on learning that Evan was the son of a tailor, he haughtily declined to fight a common tradesman.

While watching a cricket match on the green on the day after the tavern brawl, Evan met Rose Jocelyn and her party, which included the Countess de Saldar. He was prevailed upon to visit the Jocelyns at Beckley Court before he went to London. As he rode along beside Rose, one of the men with whom he had quarreled the night before pointed him out as a tailor. At Beckley Court, the Countess was able to persuade Harry Jocelyn that Evan was not the tailor but that Jack Raikes was. Laxley still demanded that Evan deny his trade and fight the duel as a gentleman or else acknowledge it.

Laxley was one of Rose’s suitors. Resenting Evan, he continually challenged him to admit he was not a real gentleman. Since claiming that he was a gentleman would mean a duel with Laxley, Evan resolved to leave Beckley Court.

The Countess, fearing to see all her plans ruined, prevailed upon Evan to seek the advice of his relatives. Harriet, Caroline, and Andrew were also visiting at Beckley Court; Evan’s predicament concerned all of them. Andrew offered the young man a position in his brewery.

Glorying in her position, Rose encouraged her admirers to outrace each other in an amateur steeplechase; the prize would be her handkerchief. Evan won the prize but was injured when thrown from his horse.

There was a rumor in Lymport that at the age of sixteen the Countess de Saldar tried to run off with a certain George Uploft. Melchisedec allegedly had chased the pair down and ended the romance. When Uploft appeared at Beckley Court, the Countess brazenly defied him to recall her background. At dinner, the conversation swung to old Mel, and during the last...

(The entire section is 1367 words.)