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John Brownlow is a highly respected attorney; and he is the executor for Mrs Thomson's will, which left £50,000 to her daughter Phoebe. But he is also the beneficiary of that will, if Phoebe is not found within 25 years. As the years pass and Phoebe cannot be found, he begins to think of the money (now greatly increased) as his own. He buys a lovely country estate and raises his children Jack and Sara to associate with the neighbouring gentry. This story opens in the 25th year, when only a few months remain until the money and interest will be rightfully Mr Brownlow's. Mr Brownlow is becoming obsessed by the idea that the real heir will step forward at the last minute.