Richard Feverel is the only son of Sir Austin Feverel of Raynham Abbey. After Sir Austin’s wife leaves him, the baronet becomes a misogynist and determines to rear his son according to a system that, among other things, virtually excludes females from the boy’s life until the boy is twenty-five years old. At that time, Sir Austin thinks, his son may marry, so long as a woman good enough for the young man can be found.
Raised within his father’s system, Richard’s early life is carefully controlled. The boy is kept from lakes and rivers so he will not drown, from firecrackers so he will not be burned, and from cricket fields so he will not be bruised. Adrian Harley, Sir Austin’s nephew, is entrusted with Richard’s education. Adrian calls his young charge the Hope of Raynham.
When he is fourteen years old, Richard becomes restless. It is decided that he needs a companion of his own age, and his father chooses young Ripton Thompson, the none-too-brilliant son of Sir Austin’s lawyer. In their escapades around Raynham Abbey together, Richard leads and Ripton follows. Despite Ripton’s subordinate position, however, he apparently has much to do with corrupting his companion and weakening Sir Austin’s system. Soon after Ripton arrives at Raynham, the two boys decide to go shooting. A quarrel arises between them when Ripton, who is not a sportsman by nature, cries out as Richard is aiming at a bird. Richard calls his companion a fool, and a fight ensues. Richard wins because he is a scientific boxer.
The two boys soon make up their differences, but the state of harmony is short lived. The same afternoon, they trespass on the farm of a neighbor named Blaize, who finds them after they shoot a pheasant on his property. Blaize orders the boys off his land, and, when they refuse to go, he horsewhips them. Richard and Ripton are compelled to retreat. Ripton suggests that he stone the farmer, but Richard refuses to let his companion use such ungentlemanly tactics. The two boys do, however, speculate on ways to get even with farmer Blaize.
Richard is in disgrace when he returns to Raynham because his father knows of his fight with Ripton. Sir Austin orders his son to go to bed immediately after supper; he later discovers that Richard disobeyed him and met up with Ripton instead. The boys are overheard talking mysteriously about setting something on fire. Shortly afterward, when Sir Austin discovers that farmer Blaize’s hayricks are on fire, he suspects Richard. Sir Austin is chagrined, but he does not try to make his son confess. Adrian Harley suspects both Richard and Ripton, and the latter boy is soon sent home to his father.
The next day, a laborer named Tom Bakewell is arrested on suspicion of having committed arson. Tom did set fire to Blaize’s property, but he was bribed by Richard to do so. Nevertheless, Tom refuses to implicate Richard. Conscience-stricken and aware that a commoner is shielding him, Richard confesses to Blaize. Blaize is not surprised by Richard’s visit, for Sir Austin has already called and paid the damages resulting from the fire.
Richard is humiliated by the necessity of apologizing to a farmer. He tells Blaize that he was the one who set fire to the farmer’s grain stacks; Blaize, however, implies that Richard is a liar: Blaize has a witness, a dull-witted fellow, who insists that Tom Bakewell was the arsonist. Richard maintains that he himself was responsible, and he succeeds in confusing Blaize’s star witness. Afterward, Richard leaves the farm in an irritated frame of mind. He has been so distracted while there that he never notices the farmer’s pretty thirteen-year-old niece, Lucy Desborough, when she lets him in and out of Blaize’s house. At Tom’s trial, Blaize’s witness is so uncertain about the identity of the arsonist that the accused is released. Thereafter, Tom becomes Richard’s devoted servant.
When Richard reaches the age of eighteen, Sir Austin sets about finding him a prospective wife, a girl who could be trained for seven years to be a fit mate for Sir Austin’s perfect son. Richard, however, cannot wait seven years before beginning to show an...
(The entire section is 1711 words.)