The House of Ravenshoe had long been a bastion of Catholicism in England, and the Church of Rome had for generations assigned a resident priest to the household. When he reached manhood, Densil Ravenshoe showed a rebellious spirit by going off to London and consorting with Lord Saltire, a notorious atheist. After he had been imprisoned for his debts, his father sent the resident priest to bail him out.
For a while, Densil was reconciled to priestly rule, but the new Father Mackworth had his difficulties with him. Densil at last married a Protestant woman, to the consternation of the Church. Five years went by, and Densil had no children. Father Mackworth was thinking of asking for another assignment, but what he heard when he was eavesdropping one evening caused him to stay on at Ravenshoe. Cuthbert, Densil’s first son, was born, and the priest had the satisfaction of baptizing him in the true faith.
A second son, Charles, was born five years later. Densil’s wife died in childbirth, and shortly the terrible truth came out: Densil had promised to bring up his second son as a Protestant. Charles was given to a nurse, Norah, the wife of James Horton, the gamekeeper. She had a boy, William, just a week older than Charles, and she gladly accepted her new charge. Resolved that a Protestant should never own Ravenshoe, Father Mackworth made his plans early.
Charles was a cheerful lad, well liked by all. When he was ten years old, he went to visit at Ranford, the estate of the Ascots, who were related to the Ravenshoes. Charles was immediately accepted by his Protestant relations; Cuthbert had never been able to win their love. At Ranford, Charles met beautiful, imperious Adelaide Summers, a ward of Lady Ascot, and promptly fell in love with her. Another new friend was the famous Lord Saltire, who became fond of the boy.
There was a great storm at Ravenshoe. In the bay, a ship went down, split on a rock. Only a few were saved; among them was Mary Corby, the daughter of the captain. She was a lovely girl who was accepted as one of the family. She soon fell in love with Charles.
At Oxford, Charles had two intimate friends, Lord Welter, his cousin from Ranford, and John Marston, a scholar. Marston was a good influence over Charles, but Welter was a brutal, arrogant bully. Unfortunately, Charles followed Welter’s habits of drinking, brawling, and gaming. After a wild night of carousing, both Charles and Welter were sent down from the university. To delay his homecoming, Charles stopped off for a visit at Ranford. Lord Saltire helped him make his peace with his father. During his visit, he became engaged to Adelaide.
Charles spent several months of enforced vacation at Ravenshoe. During that time, Welter and Marston both came to see him. Marston proposed to Mary, but she refused him. This period was marred by Father Mackworth, who seemed an evil genius to Charles. Ellen Horton, William’s younger sister, ran away because of some trouble that seemed to be connected with Father Mackworth. At the beginning of the next term, Charles went back to Oxford.
His stay was brief, for he was recalled by the death of his father. Father Mackworth was in possession of a ruinous secret that Cuthbert offered to buy for ten thousand pounds. Father Mackworth refused money, but to keep Charles from inheriting Ravenshoe, he revealed that Norah had switched babies long ago; Charles was really her own son, and William Horton, the groom, was a Ravenshoe. William, a Catholic, became second in line to own Ravenshoe. Distraught, Charles rushed to Ranford to see Adelaide; he learned there that she had run away with Welter.
He called himself Charles Horton and took service with Lieutenant Hornby. As a servant, he learned that Ellen, his own sister, had been Welter’s mistress; now she was a maid in the same household with Adelaide, Welter’s new mistress. Welter and Adelaide lived by gambling. Charles had an interview with Welter, who excused his villainy by saying...
(The entire section is 1,203 words.)