John Brownlow is a highly respected attorney; and he is the executor for Mrs Thomson's will, which left £50,000 to her daughter Phoebe. But he is also the beneficiary of that will, if Phoebe is not found within 25 years. As the years pass and Phoebe cannot be found, he begins to think of the money (now greatly increased) as his own. He buys a lovely country estate and raises his children Jack and Sara to associate with the neighbouring gentry.
This story opens in the 25th year, when only a few months remain until the money and interest will be rightfully Mr Brownlow's. Mr Brownlow is becoming obsessed by the idea that the real heir will step forward at the last minute. Once an honourable man, he will now do anything to retain the legacy - and as the last hours approach, even thoughts of murder begin to haunt him. Meanwhile Jack and Sara know nothing of Mr Brownlow's secret. The once kind father now focuses on the importance of his children marrying well, in case the money is lost. But Jack has already fallen in love, and Sara is beginning to fall in love too.
This novel is not entirely successful, but as always in Oliphant novels there is much of interest in the settings and characters.
Biographical and other notes
This novel is closely related to Margaret Oliphant's 1861 story The Executor. See "2 Related Story Lines" below.
In America this novel was entitled The Brownlows.
British publishing information
Periodical: Blackwood's Magazine Jan 1867-Feb 1868