The story is narrated by Grace Reeves, 98 years old. She was invited by the filmmaker Ursula. Ursula is making a film about what happened at Riverton and she wanted to get Grace’s opinion about it – since Grace worked as a housemaid at Riverton when she was young.
Here is what happened at Riverton, based on Grace’s memories/flashbacks:
Grace arrived at Riverton at the age of 14. A few months in her service, she met the children of Mr. Frederick – Emmeline, Hannah and David. David is the eldest, and Emmeline is the youngest. Normally, it is just the three of them who plays, but there was one Christmas vacation where they had companion – Robbie Hunter. A friend of David. He briefly stayed at Riverton and played with the siblings, but most of the time Hannah does not join them. She is not happy that Robbie is joining them because it meant they couldn’t play The Game. The Game is an adventure game that the siblings created, and it can only be played by 3.
When war emerged, David & Robbie decided to go. Another boy that went to war is Alfred – he is a houseboy who likes Grace.
After the war, David was not able to return as he is already killed. Alfred was able to return, but he was different. He was physically okay but he was traumatized by the war.
Lord Ashbury has two sons – Major Jonathan and Mr. Frederick. Major Jonathan also got killed during the war, and a few days after this death, Lord Ashbury also died. This means that Riverton now needs a new owner. According to the will, it will be given to Major Jonathan’s son. Major Jonathan’s wife, Jemima, is still pregnant. If she gives birth to a baby boy, the baby will be a new heir. However if it’s a girl, the new heir will be Major Jonathan’s brother – Mr. Frederick. Jemima’s gave birth to a baby girl, so Mr. Frederick and his daughters, Hannah & Emmeline, became residents of Riverton.
On one party at Riverton, Hannah met Teddy Luxton, son of a wealthy banker. Hannah wants to be an independent woman, to live by herself and get a job – however she realized that this wouldn’t be possible since her father will not allow this. She was then led to believe (by Lady Violet) that marriage will give her independence from her father. She married Teddy Luxton and lived with him in London. Mr. Frederick was against her marriage because he thinks that Luxtons betrayed his business – however Hannah was stubborn and left Riverton even without her father’s approval.
While living in London with Teddy, Hannah realized that the married life is not what she expected it to be. Since being simply a politician’s wife was boring her, she was thrilled when Robbie Hunter, David’s friend, visited her at home. He came by to give Hannah the booklet she gave David back then – before he went to the war. During that visit, Robbie met Teddy, Deborah (Teddy’s sister) and Emmeline (who is currently living with them in London). Robbie visited Hannah a few times after that. So that his visits to Hannah would not draw attention, Robbie went out with Emmeline. Robbie and Hannah ended up having an affair and they used Emmeline to be able to meet. Emmeline was unaware of it. Robbie would pick up Emmeline for a party, but while picking her up he would give a note to Hannah, indicating the time and place of their meetup. The only person who knows about this is Grace. Hannah and Robbie’s affair went on for a long time, and it was just Debbie who caught them. One of the housemaids claimed she saw Hannah at an unusual place, the other servants also saw a part of the notes in the trash. When Deborah found out, she talked to Hannah and warned her. Hannah wrote a letter for Robbie, ending their affair, and asked Grace to give it to him
Mr. Frederick died in an accident in Riverton (it was rumored to be not an accident but a suicide). He has been unwell and very sad in the past months, after losing Hannah, and his business. After his death, Teddy decided to move to Riverton. Since Mr. Frederick was not able to take good care of Riverton, Teddy made renovations. After the renovations, he decided to host a party and Hannah decided to help. Teddy was glad that Hannah was working with Deborah for the party but it turns out that Hannah just has a plan.
While Grace was dressing Hannah for the party, she noticed that Hannah looked uneasy and nervous. Before the party began, Hannah gave Grace a locket as a gift. Hannah’s plan that night was to runaway with Robbie.
When Grace went to her quarter, she saw two letters in her bed. One was for her, the other was for Emmeline. The letter that was addressed to her was written in shorthand. She couldn’t read shorthand, she only pretended she can back then to hide the fact that she bought a book which is not allowed for the servants. Since Grace couldn’t read the letter that was for her, she read the letter for Emmeline. In the letter, it mentions that Hannah is about to commit suicide.
Thinking that she should stop Hannah, Grace looked for Emmeline. Grace thought that Emmeline can make her stop Hannah from killing herself. Grace and Emmeline went into the lake and saw Hannah. Hannah explained that the letter was just a game, Emmeline believed her but before totally leaving the lake, she saw Robbie. She tried to insist that Robbie should go back to the party but later on she realized what Hannah and Robbie were trying to do. They were trying to runaway, they were having an affair, and Emmeline realized that the two of them just used her in order to keep on meeting.
There was a handgun in the suit that Emmeline borrowed. She took it and pointed it to Hannah and Robbie who are preparing to leave. Suddenly, there were fireworks, and it made Robbie (he was also traumatized from the war) . Emmeline could not pull the trigger, so Robbie suggested that they kill Emmeline so they could get on with their plan – but Hannah wouldn’t allow that too. Each of them were pulling the gun, and Hannah decided to kill Robbie.
Emmeline recovered first and instructed Grace to bring the suitcase back. When Teddy arrived, Emmeline announced that Robbie has killed himself.
There was an investigation but Hannah and Emmeline were spared, since Teddy insisted that what they saw traumatized them. It was Hannah who got affected the most – she’s gone very pale and silent. As for Emmeline, she has been partying in London – but that was just her way of masking the sadness.
Emmeline died in a car crash, with bottles of brandy found in the car. Teddy tried to keep thins from Hannah as she is pregnant and about to give birth, but Hannah already knew when Grace attempted to tell her.
Hannah died when she gave birth to a baby girl who was named Florence. While Hannah was giving birth she yelled at Grace, she told her this was all her fault. Grace didn’t know what she meant by then – but later on she realized that it became her fault because of the letter. The letter that Hannah wrote for her in shorthand contains instructions and the truth about what Hannah was about to do. But Grace lied to Hannah about being able to read shorthand. In the letter it mentions making sure that Emmeline does not go near the lake – but Grace without knowing, did the opposite.
After Hannah’s death, Teddy figured out the real father of the baby, just by looking at the baby’s face. They sent the baby in the US to Jemima.
Without Hannah, Grace decided eventually to leave Riverton.
- At the age of 98, with her daughter and grandson beside her, Grace died of old age. Before she died, she recorded the tapes narrating the events at Riverton and she left it to Marcus.
- As for Ursula, she was able to finish the film. She revealed that she is a distant relative of Hannah & Emmeline, and her grandmother’s name is Florence (Hannah’s daughter who was sent to the US).
Other important details:
- Grace is Hannah & Emmeline’s half sister – but nobody knows it. Grace figured it out after her mother’s death, when she saw Mr. Frederick. She just analyzed the details and concluded that Mr. Frederick is her father – but she didn’t tell anyone about it.
- Grace fell in love with Alfred who proposed to her. She said yes but later on took it back when she realized that Alfred wanted her to quit being Hannah’s lady’s maid. Alfred later on married Lucy Starling (Mr. Frederick’s secretary). However, Alfred & Grace found each other again. They didn’t marry, but they lived together.
The End of The House at Riverton by Kate Morton.