Leonard Outram, a young Englishman who’s just lost his fortune along with and his fiancee’s hand, makes an oath: he’ll win back his home and live happily ever after. Really! Well, sort of. Leonard ends up in Africa, which, at that point in history, was the place to win your fortune back for the gods of fate. Leonard rescues a maid from a slave-dealer – for a fee, of course! – and then falls in love with her, complicating the heck out of his situation. Oh well: a great adventure ensues, taking them to places no one has ever heard of, then or now – leading to narrow escapes, love, intrigue, and of course, high adventure.
The January afternoon was passing into night, the air was cold and still, so still that not a single twig of the naked beech–trees stirred; on the grass of the meadows lay a thin white rime, half frost, half snow; the firs stood out blackly against a steel–hued sky, and over the tallest of them hung a single star. Past these bordering firs there ran a road, on which, in this evening of the opening of our story, a young man stood irresolute, glancing now to the right and now to the left.
To his right were two stately gates of iron fantastically wrought, supported by stone pillars on whose summits stood griffins of black marble embracing coats of arms, and banners inscribed with the device Per ardua ad astra. Beyond these gates ran a broad carriage drive, lined on either side by a double row of such oaks as England alone can produce under the most favourable circumstances of soil, aided by the nurturing hand of man and three or four centuries of time.
At the head of this avenue, perhaps half a mile from the roadway, although it looked nearer because of the eminence upon which it was placed, stood a mansion of the class that in auctioneers’ advertisements is usually described as “noble.” Its general appearance was Elizabethan, for in those days some forgotten Outram had practically rebuilt it; but a large part of its fabric was far more ancient than the Tudors, dating back, so said tradition, to the time of King John. As we are not auctioneers, however, it will be unnecessary to specify its many beauties; indeed, at this date, some of the tribe had recently employed their gift of language on these attractions with copious fulness and accuracy of detail, since Outram Hall, for the first time during six centuries, was, or had been, for sale.