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Natalie Neill, Synopsis of Eliza Fenwick, Secresy; or, The Ruin on the Rock (1795).

After the death of her father, Sibella Valmont is placed under the guardianship of her misanthropic uncle, Mr. Valmont, who keeps her hidden away in his gloomy castle. Because of his low opinion of women, she is denied an education. Her only true companion is her uncle's adopted son, Clement Montgomery. As the years pass, Sibella and Clement's friendship blossoms into love. When Sibella is sixteen, Valmont sends Clement out into the world. Left on her own, Sibella spends her days roaming the woods of the castle park with her pet fawn, Nina. But life becomes more eventful with the visit of Caroline Ashburn and her mother

Raised in India, Caroline is overindulged by her wealthy father and neglected by her frivolous mother. In spite of her upbringing, she matures into a moral, if outspoken, young woman. When her father dies, she returns to England with her mother. They pay a short visit to Valmont castle to see Mrs. Valmont, an old friend of Mrs. Ashburn's. Caroline takes an instant liking to Mr. and Mrs. Valmont's niece, Sibella. Mr. Valmont refuses to let Sibella leave the castle, but at last relents a little, and allows her to correspond with her new friend.

After leaving Valmont castle, Caroline and her mother join a small party at the home of a rich nabob, Sir Thomas Barlowe. The party receives an addition when Sir Thomas's nephew, Arthur Murden, arrives. Caroline is perplexed by the contradictions in Murden's character. He is kind-hearted, yet overly romantic, and used to moving in fashionable circles. Her interest in Murden is heightened when she learns that he is acquainted with her friend's lover, Clement Montgomery. Murden reacts oddly one evening when Caroline speaks glowingly of Sibella. Thereafter, he begins behaving strangely, like one distractedly in love. He leaves London, explaining to Clement in a letter that he intends to go abroad.

Back at the castle, Mr. Valmont unaccountably constructs a white marble tomb in Valmont park. Sibella passes her time pining for Clement and writing letters to Caroline. One day she sees a strange bearded figure descend from the ruins of an old hermitage situated on top of a rock near the castle. When Sibella refuses to believe that he is the former inhabitant of the ruin, the hermit casts off his costume, and reveals himself to be a handsome young man. However, Sibella soon forgets the mysterious hermit when she learns that her uncle has permitted Clement to return to the castle. Unfortunately, her lover is not the ideal young man she believes him to be. He has been leading a dissipated life in London, biding his time apart from her in the company of a mistress, Janetta. Mr. Valmont is displeased with Clement's progress and tells him he must find a profession and make his own way in the world. He then tells the miserable youth that he has another husband in mind for Sibella. Sibella feels the injustice of her uncle's behaviour. Unfamiliar with the customs of the world, she suggests to Clement that they pledge their love to one another by sleeping together. Clement does not hesitate to accept her proposal. Afterwards, Sibella considers herself married to Clement. He departs once again for London, where he joins Caroline, her mother, and their circle of friends. Mrs. Ashburn's new companion, Mademoiselle Laundy, turns out to be none other than Clement's former mistress, Janetta. As Clement gives himself over to the pleasures of fashionable life, Sibella has several more chance meetings with the hermit at Valmont castle.

Meanwhile, a friend of Sibella's late father is trying to promote a match between his son, Lord Filmar, and Sibella, who he suspects will inherit a great deal of money from her uncle. When Valmont informs him that Sibella is intended for another, the rakish Lord Filmar decides to pursue her anyway. He doesn't take marriage very seriously but wants to rid himself of his debts. He contrives to enter the castle late one night while Valmont is away, with the intention of carrying Sibella off. However, as he and his servant approach her chamber, they encounter the bearded hermit. Their lantern goes out, and they beat a hasty retreat. Soon afterwards, the fawn leads Sibella to the hermitage where she meets the romantic recluse and finds out that he is in fact Caroline's friend, Arthur Murden. He explains that he is in love, but that his beloved is dead to him. He then tells Sibella that she is not her uncle's dependent, as she had always been led to believe, but that she is a wealthy heiress - a discovery he made while eavesdropping on a conversation at a nearby inn. Sibella runs off to confront her uncle, but never returns. In a letter to Caroline, Murden reveals that Sibella herself is the object of his fatal passion. Having heard the local legends about the haunted ruin on the rock in Valmont park, he had disguised himself as a hermit and secreted himself in the hermitage in order to be near her.

Sibella and her uncle fight. She finally tells him of her "marriage" to Clement. Valmont strikes her. She throws herself in the moat. After she is rescued, Valmont locks her in her room. The cowardly Clement denies the charge levelled against him, suggesting in a letter to his uncle that the union is a product of Sibella's imagination. Valmont refuses to allow the correspondence between Sibella and Caroline to continue. Anxious for her friend, Caroline enlists Murden's aid in rescuing her from the castle. He finds a secret passageway in the hermitage that leads to the castle, then steals into Sibella's chamber and manages to convey her safely to an inn. However, he is badly shaken by her altered appearance… she is pregnant! A second blow arrives when Lord Filmar discovers that Sibella is staying at the inn, and abducts her. When Murden realizes she is missing, he becomes distraught and delirious.

In the meantime, Valmont writes an angry letter to Clement, whom, it appears, was the husband he had all along intended for Sibella. He reveals that Clement is his natural son, then renounces him forever for having brought dishonour to the family. Finding himself in need of money, the inconstant Clement rashly marries Caroline's rich mother. Lord Filmar is not really cut out to be a villain, and does not know what to do with his pregnant captive, so he delivers her to Caroline. Sibella is shocked to discover that Clement has married someone else. She is carried from the room and soon after gives birth to a stillborn infant. Murden's condition worsens. He creeps to Sibella's bedside, throws himself in her arms, and dies. Sibella dies shortly thereafter, but not before repenting her fatal secret contract with Clement, and offering to pay Lord Filmar's debts out of her inheritance, on the condition that he reform. Sibella and Murden are buried together. Caroline is left alone to consider the evils that come of secresy.

 

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