The plot of the novel takes place in England, 1737. At a manor called Rookwood Place, there existed a legend claiming that a death would follow after a branch of an ancient tree would break. After a branch does fall from the tree, Piers Rookwood, the owner, dies. It is revealed to Luke Bradley that he was the son, and thus heir, of Piers Rookwood along with the fact that Piers Rookwood murdered Bradley's mother. This knowledge comes to Bradley while he stands near his mother's coffin, which falls and opens at the moment of revelation. During the fall, it is revealed that she was wearing a wedding ring, which proves that Bradley was not an illegitimate heir. However, the whole incident was put together by Peter Bradley, the boy's grandfather. At the same time, Rookwood's wife, Maud Rookwood, puts forth her own schemes to ensure that her son, Ranulph Rookwood, is able to claim the inheritance for himself.
How is it, we ask of those more intimately acquainted with the metaphysics of the Houyhnhnm than we pretend to be? Do the saddle or the rein convey, like metallic tractors, vibrations of the spirit betwixt the two? We know not, but this much is certain, that no servant partakes so much of the character of his master as the horse. The steed we are wont to ride becomes a portion of ourselves. He thinks and feels with us. As we are lively, he is sprightly; as we are depressed, his courage droops. In proof of this, let the reader see what horses some men make—make, we say, because in such hands their character is wholly altered. Partaking, in a measure, of the courage and the firmness of the hand that guides them, and of the resolution of the frame that sways them—what their rider wills, they do, or strive to do. When that governing power is relaxed, their energies are relaxed likewise; and their fine sensibilities supply them with an instant knowledge of the disposition and capacity of the rider. A gift of the gods is the gallant steed, which, like any other faculty we possess, to use or to abuse—to command or to neglect—rests with ourselves; he is the best general test of our own self-government.
Black Bess's action amply verified what we have just asserted; for during Turpin's momentary despondency, her pace was perceptibly diminished and her force retarded; but as he revived, she rallied instantly, and, seized apparently with a kindred enthusiasm, snorted joyously as she recovered her speed. Now was it that the child of the desert showed herself the undoubted offspring of the hardy loins from whence she sprung. Full fifty miles had she sped, yet she showed no symptoms of distress. If possible, she appeared fresher than when she started. She had breathed; her limbs were suppler; her action was freer, easier, lighter. Her sire, who, upon his trackless wilds, could have outstripped the pestilent simoom; and with throat unslaked, and hunger unappeased, could thrice have seen the scorching sun go down, had not greater powers of endurance. His vigor was her heritage. Her dam, who upon the velvet sod was of almost unapproachable swiftness, and who had often brought her owner golden assurances of her worth, could scarce have kept pace with her, and would have sunk under a third of her fatigue. But Bess was a paragon. We ne'er shall look upon her like again, unless we can prevail upon some Bedouin chief to present us with a brood mare, and then the racing world shall see what a breed we will introduce into this country. Eclipse, Childers, or Hambletonian, shall be nothing to our colts, and even the railroad slow travelling, compared with the speed of our new nags!
But to return to Bess, or rather to go along with her, for there is no halting now; we are going at the rate of twenty knots an hour—sailing before the wind; and the reader must either keep pace with us, or drop astern. Bess is now in her speed, and Dick happy. Happy! he is enraptured—maddened—furious—intoxicated as with wine. Pshaw! wine could never throw him into such a burning delirium. Its choicest juices have no inspiration like this. Its fumes are slow and heady. This is ethereal, transporting. His blood spins through his veins; winds round his heart; mounts to his brain. Away! away! He is wild with joy. Hall, cot, tree, tower, glade, mead, waste, or woodland, are seen, passed, left behind, and vanish as in a dream. Motion is scarcely perceptible—it is impetus! volition! The horse and her rider are driven forward, as it were, by self-accelerated speed. A hamlet is visible in the moonlight. It is scarcely discovered ere the flints sparkle beneath the mare's hoofs. A moment's clatter upon the stones, and it is left behind. Again it is the silent, smiling country. Now they are buried in the darkness of woods; now sweeping along on the wide plain; now clearing the unopened toll-bar; now trampling over the hollow-sounding bridge, their shadows momently reflected in the placid mirror of the stream; now scaling the hill-side a thought more slowly; now plunging, as the horses of Phœbus into the ocean, down its precipitous sides.
So, how does this adventure begin?
What is the opening line of Rookwood?