|"Of all the young ladies in Farringdon, Catherine Haywood, who is pretty, lively and clever, seems most certain to marry well. Her father has even selected a suitable husband for her - the wealthy, respectable Mr Larkin, tenant of the great estate of Ellis Park. As they meet with increasing frequency, Catherine finds Mr Larkin's company a little too sober for her taste, but when her father, keen to temper her vivacious nature through marriage, commands her to accept him should he propose, she doesn't know how to refuse.
Mr Larkin's stable-hand, James, who takes her riding, is a far more agreeable companion, although she finds his discourses on the great injustices of Regency society perturbing.
On an outing to a nearby town, Catherine finally learns the details of a story that has long haunted all Farringdon - the reason why the Mackerby family quit Ellis Park eight years ago, never to return. Their youngest daughter, Miss Anne Mackerby, fell in love with a servant and eloped with him, eliciting a prodigious scandal. Her family cast her off and her servant lover left her, whereupon she became ill with cholera and died, destitute and alone.
This story shocks Catherine to her very core and, shortly afterwards, in part to avoid a similar fate, in part to please her father, she agrees to marry Mr Larkin. He immediately begins to implement a pet project - that of 'improving' Catherine, so that she will appear as poised, immaculate and distinguished as the ladies he is used to in town. She finds his constant criticism difficult to bear, and begins to question her hasty choice.
James persuades Catherine to examine her own character and long-held beliefs more deeply than she has ever yet done, and so when a climbing boy in the village takes ill and dies, she holds Mr Larkin responsible (he would not send a doctor) and breaks off the engagement. James now proposes to Catherine, but, horrified at the thought of history repeating itself - she does not want to be another Anne Mackerby! - she runs away without answering him. Calling on her friend Elizabeth for help, the pair leave immediately for London, to stay with Elizabeth's aunt. Here, Catherine again meets with Mr Larkin. His humbler manner pleases her and she is more disposed to like him than ever, particularly as she is well aware that his good name would protect her from scandal forever. Thus Catherine must make a choice - between love and scandal...
Omma Velada, Resident Scholar