Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1190
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 girl’s mother had left for him at her death. Years before, he had seen her shuddering with cold by the roadside and had given her his cloak. Fascinated now by the girl, he talked kindly to her and learned that her name was Mirabell Starr. The men she lived with were thieves and smugglers.
In November, Francis took David to Carlisle. The Young Pretender had landed in Scotland and was marching toward London. At an inn in Carlisle, Francis saw Mirabell with a young man of her own age. He was jealous, for he knew that he loved Mirabell despite the great difference in their ages. He also saw that an ugly man of considerable age was jealous of Mirabell’s lover. During the siege of the city, all able men were pressed into service. When Carlisle fell to the Pretender’s forces, the city became quiet once more. While out for a walk on a dark night, Francis saw Mirabell and the young man walking ahead of him. He also saw the ugly man of the inn approach the pair. He yelled a warning too late. The boy Harry dropped dead. Mirabell escaped in the darkness.
In the summer of 1756, David and his sister Deborah attended a ball in Keswick. At the dance, Deborah fell in love with a young clergyman. When they arrived home next day, they were met by their father, who explained to them that Mirabell had arrived and had promised to marry him. After her hard life on the roads, Mirabell had come to offer herself to Francis in return for food and protection.
In 1758, David was thirty-eight years old. On a business trip, he met and fell in love with a girl named Sarah Denburn, a frank, friendly girl of considerable beauty. Her uncle-guardian intended her for another man, but David carried her off one night after killing his rival.
For about two years, David and Sarah lived at Herries. Mirabell hated Sarah. At last, David bought a house not far off and moved to it with his wife. Deborah went to Cockermouth to wed her clergyman. Alone with his young wife, Francis unsuccessfully tried to teach her to read and write and to love him. Mirabell had a gypsy nature. One day, she ran away. From then on, most of Francis’ life was devoted to traveling over England looking for Mirabell.
Meanwhile, David and Sarah settled at Uldale and had three children. They became well established in the community. Sarah loved the society of the people of Uldale, and David prospered.
After many years of wandering, Francis at last saw Mirabell again among a troupe of players in Penrith. She promised to meet him after the play but did not. Francis searched the town in vain. As he returned to his inn, he fell ill of an old ailment, a fever, and was forced to stay there for six months. When at last he returned home, he found Mirabell waiting for him. She explained that she could not desert the acting company on that fateful night because the leader, her lover, had threatened to kill himself if she deserted him, and his death would have left his children friendless orphans. At last, however, he had run away with a younger woman, and Mirabell had come back to Francis once more for protection. She tried to make him understand that the only man she had ever truly loved was the boy killed in Carlisle.
In 1774, an old woman from a nearby village came in to cook for Francis and Mirabell, for at last Mirabell was going to have a baby. Francis, stricken again by his fever, was in bed in the next room as Mirabell gave birth to a daughter and died. Francis, in a final spasm of vigor, rose from his bed and then fell back, he thought, into Mirabell’s arms. He too was dead. Only the newborn child and the old woman were alive in the house on that stormy winter night.
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