(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

Colonel Rudolph Musgrave, family head of the Musgraves of Matocton in Litchfield, was forty years old in 1896. He was a consummate Southern gentleman: an aristocrat, a scholar, a lover, and an indifferent businessman. A bachelor, he lived with his sister Miss Agatha, who let nothing interfere with his comfort. His small income from his position as librarian of the Litchfield Historical Society was augmented by his genealogical research for people who were trying to establish a pedigree. The brother and sister lived quite comfortably on his earnings.

Both, however, had inherited Musgrave weaknesses. She tippled, and he fell in love with many women. The Colonel had a streak of chivalry in his nature which prompted him to make gallant gestures of renunciation for the sake of the lady in question. His most recent act of chivalry, which had provided Litchfield with amusing gossip, occurred when he had been overheard by Anne Charteris—whom he had loved and lost to the selfish novelist, John Charteris—while he was reprimanding her husband for getting Mrs. Pendomer pregnant. Anne, who blindly worshipped her husband, had misunderstood the situation, and she had supposed that Musgrave was the guilty party. Musgrave had accepted the blame in order to save Anne from learning that her husband was a philanderer. Privately, Musgrave delighted in the episode.

The Musgraves were visited by Patricia Stapylton, the twenty-one-year-old daughter of a second cousin once removed who had eloped with an overseer. Roger Stapylton, the overseer, had become wealthy in the North, and Patricia was engaged to marry Lord Pevensey. Although Musgrave tried to impress Patricia with his most formal manner, she was not at all awed by him and immediately punctured his reserve. He spent a good deal of time with her, however, and once he read to her “The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep.”

Musgrave, acting according to his code of honor, fell in love with Patricia and tried to renounce her; but she saw through his performance and jilted the Englishman. During the dinner at which their engagement was to be announced, Musgrave discovered that Patricia had fallen in love with Joe Parkinson. Musgrave made his grand gesture by announcing her engagement to the younger man. Patricia jilted Parkinson, however, and she married Musgrave.

At first their marriage was very happy, even though Patricia was troubled by her husband’s reserve. Stapylton offered Musgrave a remunerative position in his business, but Musgrave refused it. Then Musgrave tried to make some quick money in the stock market but promptly lost all his savings. After that, they lived on Patricia’s allowance, which was rather small because Stapylton was displeased by their refusal to leave Litchfield.

Patricia had...

(The entire section is 1143 words.)