(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

The town of Bullhampton was a typical English country parish. Although the Marquis of Trowbridge owned most of the land, he had no residence within ten miles of it. The rest of the land was owned by Squire Harry Gilmore, a good friend of the Vicar of Bullhampton. The Squire had recently become a daily visitor at the vicarage, for the Vicar’s wife had a guest, Mary Lowther, with whom Squire Gilmore was in love. Mary, however, could not bring herself to become engaged to the Squire, because, as she told Janet Fenwick, she simply was not in love with him. Janet and the Vicar tried to persuade her that her views would change for the better after marriage. Despite their well-meant advice, Mary still would not give her consent.

One evening, as the Squire left the vicarage, he saw three men loitering in the orchard. He recognized one of them as Sam Brattle, the son of Jacob Brattle, the mill owner. Jacob was a crabbed, hardworking old man who had reared a large family. Most of the children had turned out well, except Sam, who consorted with low companions, and Carry, who had gone away to the city and had become a woman of the streets. No one ever spoke of the wayward daughter at the Brattle home, for she had broken her father’s heart. The chief desire of Jacob’s life was to have his old mill repaired, and he finally succeeded in obtaining the necessary money to finance the project from Squire Gilmore.

Because Mary could not bring herself to accept the Squire and her presence disturbed him greatly, she finally left for home. She lived at Loring with her aunt, Miss Marrable, an old spinster who was interested in Squire Gilmore’s devotion to Mary.

Back in Bullhampton, the Vicar tried to find out if Sam Brattle had been in his orchard with the other men that night, but the most he could learn was that two men, one a former convict and the other a complete stranger, had been hanging around the town and that Sam was well acquainted with both of them. A few days later, one of the farmers of the community was found murdered and his secret strongbox emptied of its contents. The only person who had known the location of the strongbox was a servant girl who was a good friend of Sam Brattle. Sam was arrested and was to be released a short time later because the magistrate could find no real evidence against him. Nevertheless, the Marquis of Trowbridge thought he should be held in custody, and sharp words passed between the Marquis and the Vicar on the subject. Sam returned to the mill because the Vicar stoutly defended him.

Meanwhile, at Loring, Mary Lowther had fallen deeply in love with her cousin, Walter Marrable. Walter, a soldier returned from India, was trying to regain an inheritance from his father, who had cheated him out of it. If this repossession were possible, Walter would be a wealthy man and would not have to return to India to make his fortune. During their walks together, Mary was a sympathetic listener to his troubles. Soon they were in love with each other. This situation worried Mary’s aunt because Walter’s attempt to regain his...

(The entire section is 1262 words.)