Ferdinand Armine is the scion of an aristocratic Catholic family, which can trace its roots back to the time of William the Conqueror. Ferdinand had an idyllic but isolated childhood, brought up by his loving parents and his tutor Glastonbury. The family estate, Armine, is, however, dilapidated and debt-ridden due to the lifestyle of Ferdinand’s grandfather. Ferdinand becomes a favourite of his wealthy maternal grandfather, Lord Grandison, who, despite hints, fails to financially assist his daughter and son-in-law. Glastonbury therefore arranges for a duke in London, whose family he previously served, to buy an army commission in Malta for Ferdinand. Whilst Ferdinand is in Malta, Lord Grandison’s heir dies and everyone assumes Ferdinand will in due course inherit Grandison’s estate.