Dr. Primrose and his wife, Deborah, are blessed with five fine children. The two daughters, Olivia and Sophia, are remarkable for their beauty. The Primrose family lives in a quiet rural community, where they enjoy both wealth and good reputation. The oldest son, George, falls in love with Arabella Wilmot, the daughter of a neighbor, and the two families make mutual preparations for the wedding. Before the wedding, however, Dr. Primrose and Miss Wilmot’s father quarrel over the question of a man’s remarrying after the death of his wife. Dr. Primrose stoutly upholds the doctrine of absolute monogamy. Mr. Wilmot, who is about to take his fourth wife, is insulted. The rift between the two families widens when news comes that Dr. Primrose’s broker has run off with all of his money. Mr. Wilmot breaks off the wedding plans, for the vicar is now a poor man.
George departs for London to make his fortune, and the rest of the family prepares to go to another part of the country, where Dr. Primrose finds a more modest living. On the way, they meet a man who wins the admiration of Dr. Primrose by a deed of charity to a fellow traveler. The man, Mr. Burchell, rides along with them. Suddenly, Sophia is thrown from her horse into a stream, from which Mr. Burchell is able to save her. The gratitude of Deborah assures Mr. Burchell of a warm welcome whenever he should choose to call on them.
Their new home is on the estate of wealthy Squire Thornhill, a young man known for his attentions to all the young ladies in the neighborhood. Deborah thinks that either of her daughters would make a good match for the young squire. Soon afterward, a fortunate meeting draws the squire’s attention toward Olivia, and her mother’s scheming makes Squire Thornhill a steady caller at the Primrose home, where Olivia blushingly protests that she thinks him both bold and rude. Mr. Burchell also calls frequently, but his interest seems to center upon Sophia, who does not deny her pleasure at his attention. Dr. Primrose, however, cannot approve of Mr. Burchell, for he lost all of his fortune and seems to live in relative poverty, which reveals an indifference to his fallen condition.
Two noble ladies from the city meet the Primrose family in their rustic retreat, and Sophia and Olivia become charmed by talk of city ways. When the women speak of their need for companions in their households, Deborah immediately suggests that Olivia and Sophia be selected. The two daughters are pleased at the thought of going to the city, despite Mr. Burchell’s vigorous objections. All is set for the journey, however, when Deborah receives a letter stating that a secret informant so slandered Olivia and Sophia that the city ladies will not consider them fit companions. At first,...
(The entire section is 1129 words.)