George Bertram's uncle, a wealthy City merchant, had sent him to Oxford where he made a brilliant record. Inclined toward the church and unwilling to follow his uncle's advice to adopt commerce as a career, he postponed his decision until after a visit to the Holy Land. In Jerusalem he met his father Sir Lionel Bertram, whom he had not seen since his boyhood and who had shown no interest in his upbringing. Sir Lionel held a minor military diplomatic post that kept him in the East, and while personally charming was little better than a worthless spendthrift.
While in the Holy Land George met and fell in love with Caroline Waddington, granddaughter of George Bertram, Sr. She persuaded him to study for the Bar, but refused to marry him until he had acquired a suitable income. Their engagement dragged on for three years, George refusing to ask his uncle for financial aid and Caroline persisting in her original requirement. Finally, by mutual consent the engagement was broken, and Caroline soon married Sir Henry Harcourt, the brilliant and ambitious Solicitor-General. Although old Mr. Bertram tried to prevent the marriage, Sir Henry persisted, in the belief that his wife would he her grandfather's heir. He took a large house and entertained lavishly, but when he tried to compel Caroline to wheedle money from her grandfather to support his extravagance, she refused and left him, taking refuge at Hadley, her grandfather's gloomy country house where he lived alone, ill and moody. When the government fell Sir Henry was without a post. Harassed by debt, forsaken by his fair-weather friends and impotent to force Caroline to return to him, he committed suicide. After some time Caroline and George became reconciled and eventually married.
Sir Lionel Bertram, on his retirement to Littlebath, made a futile attempt to marry Miss Sally Todd for her fortune, but on her refusal was compelled to pare his expenses to his pension, plus such sums as he could extract from his son.The secondary plot has to do with George's friend Arthur Wilkinson. To support his widowed mother and sisters he had become Vicar of Hurst Staple after unwisely agreeing to a stipulation of his patron that the major part of his salary should go to his mother. She soon came to regard the income as her own and was furious when Arthur wished to marry and occupy the vicarage. After some time she was forced to yield and Arthur married Adela Gauntlet.
"...perhaps the most serious objection which can be brought against the book from the point of view of literature is that it is too much like life." - Algar Thorold, Introduction to the New Pocket Library edition, Lane, London, 1905.