(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

Joseph Vance’s father was more often drunk than sober; but he was a good man and was never mean when he was drunk. Having lost several positions because of his drinking, he was in no way depressed. He took Joe with him to visit a pub on the night of his discharge from his last position. While there, he quarreled with a chimney sweep and lost the fight. Forced to spend some time in the hospital after the affair, he decided to give up his excessive drinking.

After his release from the hospital, he set himself up as a builder and drain repairman, by virtue of acquiring a signboard advertising his services. Mr. Vance knew nothing about the building trade, but he believed that it was his ignorance which would cause him to be a success at the business. He appeared to be right. His first job was for Dr. Randall Thorpe, of Poplar Villa, and Dr. Thorpe was so pleased with the work that he recommended Mr. Vance for more jobs until his reputation was such that he was much in demand. Mr. Vance took Joe with him on his first call at Poplar Villa. There, Joe met Miss Lossie Thorpe, the first real young lady he had ever seen. At this time Joe was nine years old and Lossie was fifteen, but he knew from the first meeting that she was to be his lady for the rest of his life.

When Dr. Thorpe learned that Joe was a bright boy, he sent him to school and made him almost one of the family. Lossie was like a sister to him; in fact, she called him her little brother and encouraged him in his studies. The Thorpe household also included young Joe Thorpe, called Beppino, a sister Violet, and another brother named Nolly. Joe Vance grew up with these young people, and Dr. Thorpe continued to send him to school, even to Oxford when he was ready. Although Dr. Thorpe had hoped that Joe Vance might excel in the classics, the boy found his interest in engineering. Beppino did grow up to be a poet, but he wrote such drivel that his father was disgusted. Meanwhile, a deep friendship had developed between Joe Vance and Lossie, a brother-and-sister love that made each want the other’s happiness above all else.

Mr. Vance’s business prospered so much that he and his wife took a new house and hired a cook and a maid. After Joe had finished at Oxford, he joined his old school friend, Bony Macallister, and they established an engineering firm. Their offices were in the same building with Mr. Vance. By that time, Lossie had married General Desprez, a wealthy army officer, and had moved with him to India. Joe suffered a great deal at the loss of his dear friend, but he knew that General Desprez was a fine man who would care for Lossie and love her tenderly.

Shortly after Lossie sailed for India, Joe’s mother died. His father began to drink once more. Joe tried to think of some way to help his father. Joe thought that if he married, his wife might...

(The entire section is 1170 words.)