A book written in 1897, "My Lord Duke" by E. W. Hornung plays with the old idea of "What if...": What if you take someone from the life they have been used to and transplant them into an entirely new life, totally different from everything they have known so far?
That is exactly what happens to Jack, a shearer living in the Australian outback, when the lawyer of a wealthy English family finds him to be the true heir of a duke who died estranged from his family.
Jack and the lawyer travel to England, where the "rough diamond" gets into all sorts of funny situations because of his naive, uncultured approach to people and places.
After a short stint in London, he is taken to the huge and impressive family home - so huge and impressive, in fact, that he can't bear sleeping in the place but has the replica of his old wooden hut in the bush built among the pines in the vast parkland he now owns, and spends the nights there. All the way from Australia, Jack has brought his three cats, who he loves dearly as they used to be his only company for months on end. The cats play a small but not unimportant role in the story.
Jack is an animal-lover and, although physically strong enough to fight the most aggressive of his tenants (who at the time does not know it's the duke he is fighting), so kind-hearted he only sees the good in others. The English family members surrounding him on the estate, most importantly his cousin Claude (who would have been the heir if the lawyer had not found Jack), soon come to like him a lot. Jack himself considers Claude his best friend, and inevitably falls in love with the beautiful and intelligent daughter of his late father's relative, Olivia.
All is set for a "happily ever after" scenario, when suddenly another claimant turns up, stating that the late duke was secretly married to a servant girl and fathered her son some years before Jack's birth.
For Olivia's mother, all that counts is not that her daughter marries the man she loves, but the man who owns the title and the land, and so this news makes her forbid her daughter to have any more to do with Jack.
Now, is he or is he not the real heir?
Claude and the lawyer try to find out; the situation becomes very confusing, putting poor Jack and everyone else on a veritable roller coaster of emotions. Jack is torn between relief of maybe being able to go back to his former life and the fear of losing Olivia, and who behaves most nobly throughout the entire affair is cousin Claude, who unselfishly only wants to get to the truth of the story.
Unexpectedly, Jack's old boss from the Australian sheep farm turns up, and it is finally through him that the family gathered at the manor learn what really happened all those years ago.
I really enjoyed this book; after a while, one can not help but care for Jack and what happens to him, and the people and places are described well without going into unneccessarily lengthy detail.
The author, Ernest William Hornung, lived from 1866 to 1921 and was most famous for his "Raffles"-series, stories about an English gentleman thief. He spent several years in Australia, and his experiences there feature prominently in his work after his return. It is worth reading the short biography about him on this page; interestingly, he married Constance, the sister of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes.