(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

Hillingdon Hall was a charming example of the old-style manor house with its many haphazard additions and types of architecture. It was set in a pretty village, and the nearby river added to its attractions. Mr. Westbury, the former owner, had been an old-fashioned gentleman of talent and learning who spent his whole time in the country. Since he was a kind of patriarch for the district, the village wondered after his death who would be the new owner of the hall.

When the carriage drew up at the door, curious eyes were fastened on the new arrivals. The chaise was covered with dust. A package of apple trees lay on the roof, the coach boy clutched a huge geranium, and flowers and plants of all kinds were sticking out of the windows. A huge, fat man with roses in his back pocket got out, followed by his wife in stiff brocade. John Jorrocks, the new owner, had arrived.

Mrs. Flather announced the news to her blooming daughter Emma. The two ladies thought it would be only neighborly for them to call right away, especially since there might be a son in the family. At the time, Emma had an understanding with James Blake, who had been living at Hillingdon, but she was always on the alert for a better match. Mrs. Trotter, who was, if anything, quicker at gossip than Mrs. Flather, brought the news that Jorrocks was old and married and had no children.

Jorrocks tried hard to be a good gentleman farmer. He visited his tenants faithfully but found them a poor lot. They could scarcely understand his cockney accent, and they were full of complaints; besides, they knew much more than he did about farming. Mrs. Jorrocks got on better at first with her country folk. Traditionally, the lady of Hillingdon Hall was the patroness of the local school. When she visited the establishment, she was appalled at the drab uniforms worn by the girls. She immediately had an actress friend in London design new costumes in the Swiss mode. She forced these garments on the protesting girls. Unfortunately, when she had a new sign put up at the school, the spelling was bad; it announced to the world that the institution was “founder’d” by Julia Jorrocks.

One memorable day a magnificent coach drove up, and an impressive footman left a card from the Duke of Donkeyton. The Duke fancied himself as a politician. Thinking that Jorrocks might become a person of standing and feeling sure that he must be a Whig, the Duke wanted to make certain of his allegiance. The Jorrockses were still more astounded to receive an invitation to dine and stay the night at Donkeyton. Although much puzzled by the initials R.S.V.P., Jorrocks wrote a formal acceptance. Mrs. Flather and Emma were also invited, but characteristically they were thinking of the Duke’s son, the Marquis of Bray, as a possible suitor for Emma.

On the way to Donkeyton, Jorrocks contrived to get in the same carriage with Mrs. Flather, squeezed the poor lady, and stole a kiss or two. He continued his boisterous tactics at the castle. The Duke was impressed by Jorrocks’ appetite for food and drink. After dinner, he...

(The entire section is 1262 words.)