Synopsis

Although Nigel is keen to assist his cousins in their hour of need, Nelly is forced by Bertie to rebuff him. She learns that Nigel’s father shot their own father dead, and Bertie declares they must never speak to him again as a consequence. The twins eek out a frugal existence on the small legacy left by their grandfather, but Bertie takes out his frustration on Nelly, believing she should still be able to buy him treats and find them accommodation closer to medical experts.

When Dr Monkton pays a surprise visit, Bertie immediately begins to imagine what life could be like with a wealthy brother-in-law. Fully cognisant of Nelly’s devotion to her brother, Monkton is careful to get him on side, and Bertie becomes convinced he will soon lead a life of comfort and ease, with access to the best medical advice. He is furious, therefore, when Nelly responds with an emphatic “no” to the Doctor’s eventual proposal of marriage. The Doctor himself is incredulous at the rejection, and tries to press his suit by placing his arm around her and explaining the benefits that would fall to Bertie. Nelly is resolute, shuddering at his touch, and Dr Monkton departs in high dudgeon.

An irate Bertie points out that she had a responsibility to accept the proposal, and, as a mere woman, she should have been grateful. Her raison d’etre is simply to make an advantageous marriage. Advantageous, that is, to her family. Bertie begins a campaign of emotional blackmail, enlisting the support of the local community, all of whom remind her of her duty. They tell her that love follows, rather than precedes, marriage. After being convinced that Bertie’s life depends on the material benefit the marriage would bring, she realises she must marry the man she finds repellent. Nelly sees herself as the captured hare from her first encounter with the Doctor. Her courage fails her and she declares that she cannot go through with it. Bertie, ever resourceful, feigns insanity in order to frighten her into going ahead.

We next see Nelly in the cathedral town of Hilstone, where she is now Mrs Monkton, the Doctor’s wife. Mrs Prowse, the Doctor’s sister is unimpressed with the new addition to the family and is quick to point out her deficiencies. Her rustic ways means that she blends in like an orange in a coal heap, and the Hilstonians are aghast that Bertie has come to live with the newly-weds – a clear breach of etiquette. Thug also manages to alarm some of local luminaries, who are more used to lapdogs, and shrink from his attempts to be friendly.

Dr Monkton is perturbed by his wife’s failure to observe protocol and he allows his meddling sister increasing authority. Her nose having been put out of joint by a new woman in her brother’s life, she is only to pleased to exert her influence and thereby regain the upperhand. It is made very clear that Bertie is to be treated as a temporary guest, and, as such, has no influence over his sister or the household. Nelly does her best to keep the peace by conforming with her husband’s wishes, but Bertie is determined to thwart her efforts. He deliberately causes trouble in the hope that it will provoke an argument and allow him to exert some authority. He deeply resents someone else having legal mastery over his own sister, and the tension between brother and husband builds.

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