A House in Bloomsbury (1894)

This late novel revolves around the lives of the lodgers in a humble, though respectable, house in Bloomsbury. The protagonist, fifteen year old Dora Manning, and her father Mr Robert Manning have lived alone for years in their three humble rooms on the second floor. Mr Manning is a respected scientist now working at the British Museum, in a position that gives him great pleasure, but which is not one to bring him universal fame or an ample income. He used to live the adventurous life of an exploring scientist many years ago, a figure full of promise, but a mysterious crisis which nearly blighted his life brought him to his subdued, contented life of obscurity with his little daughter.

In the third floor lodgings live helpless, pregnant Mrs Hesketh and her husband, a somewhat suspicious character working as book-keeper at a shop as the novel opens. They disappear suddenly and unexpectedly not long after. On the first floor live aristocratic Miss Bethune, a Scottish middle-aged spinster, and her servant-woman Gilchrist. Though soured by some secret bitter memories only Gilchrist seems to know about, Miss Bethune is a solid, firm character who is always kind to Dora, and who has many obscure dependents with no other call upon her than their own needs. (Such is the case of the Heskeths, whose calls upon her end in Mr Hesketh's failed attempt to steal his benefactress' jewels.) On the ground floor below Miss Bethune lives Dr Roland, an amiable medical man specialising in dyspepsia, not rich but still with a regular practice. He is also a sort of medical detective full of scientific interest in his acquaintances, neighbours and friends, always keeping a close eye on every person he meets for symptoms of lurking ailments and propensities. In the vague area referred to as downstairs, live the landlady Mrs Simcox and her two orphan granddaughters, Jenny and Molly.

Dora has never heard about her mother, and she scarcely has two hints to her identity and to the fact that there seems to be some sort of painful disagreement between Mr Manning and Mrs Manning's acquaintances. One of these hints is an anonymous box full of presents for Dora that makes its way to their lodgings every year from abroad, and which is always received with grim expressions of displeasure from otherwise good-natured Mr Manning. The second is a faded little picture of a lady her father keeps hidden in one of the many cabinets where he keeps his specimens. She does not learn anything new on this subject until a mysterious couple, an elderly lady and her ward, young Harry Gordon, make their first appearance at Miss Bethune's. At this time Mr Manning is recovering from a fever that severely threatened his life for a long time, and has left him sorely distressed on finding out how deep in debt he has become in the meanwhile. He is very much depressed in spite of all efforts undertaken by his daughter, Miss Bethune and Mr Roland to hide his bills from him. Miss Bethune even secretly pays some of these, though much in fear of being discovered by proud Mr Manning.

As the elderly lady and Mr Gordon stand before Miss Bethune, she is deeply moved by some resemblance in the latter, and seems to associate him in some way to that painful secret of hers. After finding out the young man's secret, that his father told him on his deathbed his mother was still alive, we learn her own secret. She had secretly married and borne a son as a young woman, though she knew her doing so would threaten her prospects as young heiress to an uncle who she was sure would disapprove of her husband. Fearing at some point that the uncle would find out and disinherit her, the husband ran away with her baby. Time has passed ruthlessly, and years of maternal yearning and regret have made Miss Bethune sure that her husband was only after her money, though she wonders why he did not return when she finally inherited her uncle's fortune. Many coincidences induce her to believe that Mr Gordon is her lost child, and she interprets his kindness towards her as the unconscious link between a mother and a son.

She is consequently well disposed to help the elderly, waning lady, who is no other than Dora's aunt, in her wild, feverish desire to see Dora away from her father. She dies on their second meeting, leaving Mr Gordon penniless (though still thankful for her maternal care) and Dora the heiress of a large fortune. Her death results in Mr Manning revealing the lady was in reality Dora's mother, who was the sender of the bountiful boxes. Mr Manning had been given up as dead during an expedition in his youthful days, and Mrs Manning had remarried after a considerable period of time. On returning he had decided she was not to blame and therefore went away brokenhearted, but keeping her secret. Regretful and ashamed Mrs Manning resolved on never letting him see her face again, and on leaving with him her beloved daughter, the offspring of their wrecked union, to console and compensate him for his loss.

What follows is an almost subdued happy ending. As the novel closes, Mr Harry Gordon has lived with Miss Bethune as her faithful son for years, though he has long and often tried to make her understand there is plenty of evidence that he is not her son, as her baby son died in infancy. She is, however, quite immovable in her belief, and he has decided to fulfill the role of a good son towards her out of affection and gratitude. Likewise, and contrary to her obstinate father's wishes, Dora has accepted her inheritance and has become economically independent, therefore leaving him in a comfortable position where his love of books and such material comforts is constantly encouraged, if not indulged, by his fond, resourceful daughter. There is also a closing hint at a potential marriage between Dora and Harry Gordon.