(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

In the year 1730, Francis Herries brought his family from the roistering life of Doncaster to live in a long-deserted family house—called Herries—at Rosthwaite not far from Keswick in Cumberland. In addition to his wife and three children, he brought along the most recent of his many mistresses, Alice Press, who, under pretense of being the children’s governess, had actually been unkind and overbearing with them and insolent to their mother. The family rested for a period at the Keswick Inn and met Francis’ oldest brother and his wife. After an uncomfortable journey on horseback over a scarcely discernible road, the party reached Herries.

Francis Herries had led a life of dissipation. His respectable relatives, of whom there were a great many, looked on him as the black sheep of the family and avoided him. He had married his wife Margaret more for pity than for love, but she had brought him some money. The one person whom Francis really loved was his son David, and David returned his love.

One day Francis, now tired of Alice Press, came upon her berating his wife. Although he did not love Margaret, he loved Alice less. He tried from that day to make Alice leave the house, but she refused. When he took David to Keswick to a fair, they saw Alice Press. Francis was furious and told Alice that she must not return to Herries. At last, he began to shout, announcing that Alice was for sale. People were shocked and astounded. Then a man threw down a handful of silver. Francis picked up a token piece and walked away. David felt that his father was possessed of a devil.

Francis became notorious throughout the district for his escapades. Before long, he acquired the epithet of Rogue Herries. One Christmas night at a feast in a friend’s house, he was challenged to a duel by young Osbaldistone. Francis had won money from him when gambling in Keswick and had also paid some attention to a young woman that Osbaldistone fancied. In the course of the duel, Francis had the advantage. When Francis’ guard was down, however, Osbaldistone slashed him from temple to chin. The resulting scar marked Rogue Herries for the rest of his life.

One evening in the following spring, Francis came in from working on his land and found Margaret ill. They had never had any warmth of feeling between them, but even in the moment of her death, she felt that he would be at a loss without her. After making David promise never to leave his father, she called for Francis and died in his arms.

In 1745, Francis had a strange adventure. After a long walk through the hills near his home, he lay down to rest and fell sound asleep. When he awoke, his hands and feet were bound. His mysterious captor untied his bonds after questioning him as to his identity and led him to a cave where he saw several desperate-looking men and a lovely young girl. One of the men gave him a cross and chain that...

(The entire section is 1190 words.)