Eight years after the publication of her best-seller, The Daisy Chain, Charlotte M Yonge continued the story of the May family in The Trial in 1864. Although not quite up to the quality of the original novel, in some ways The Trial will appeal more to the modern reader.
When an epidemic of scarlet fever or some other now rare childhood disease breaks out Dr May and others work around the clock to help the afflicted, including the Ward family. The two sons and three daughters come through but their parents die. Eldest son, Henry, is a doctor and Dr May offers to help him build a practice while Ethel May volunteers to take the second son, Leonard, who is the hero of the novel, on a trip to the shore where it is hoped that he and Ethel's brother will recover.
They do recover and Ethel becomes close to the teen-aged Leonard. However, the prickly Henry resents the help and friendship of the May family and gets into a serious row with Leonard, who picks up and goes to work as a clerk for a relative. When the old man is murdered, Leonard is arrested, and it is his trial that gives us the title. He is found guilty but Dr May is able to have his sentence reduced from hanging to life in prison.
Henry, embarrassed and humiliated, changes the family name and takes the girls to America. Having no common sense, Henry takes his sister's small inheritance and invests it in what turns out to be a fever-ridden town in the wilderness. Then he goes off to join the Union army's medical corps.
The plot is worked very carefully. In addition to Leonard's trial, other characters face trials of their own as they struggle to do what is right and to overcome hardships. The religion and didacticism is less prominent in this sequel and the characters of the Ward family are well-developed.
Charlotte Yonge is going through a bit of a rediscovery, with this book, The Daisy Chain, The Heir of Redclyffe, The Clever Woman of the Family, and The Pillars of the House showing up on reading lists and in blogs. It takes a little work to overlook the Oxford movement saturation of some of the books, but Yonge's stories, characters, and portrayal of everyday life in a middle-class provincial family is worth it.