George Robert Gissing (1857–1903) was a popular English novelist and short story writer who also worked as a teacher and tutor throughout his life.
Humplebee tells the tale of a young man of the same name who, in his youth, saves the life of his schoolfellow, Leonard Chadwick, who falls through thin ice on a winter pond. The gratitude of Chadwick and in particular his friend's wealthy industrialist father lead everyone, in particular Humplebee's parents, to assume he will from then on have a great financial benefactor. Chadwick senior even appears to promise such generosity and initially employs Humplebee as a clerk in his business.
As things transpire, the promise of generous patronage is a curse to the Humplebee family. Humplebee hates the clerkship and all the more so because to take up the position he had to forego the opening at the Natural History museum, which he would have truly loved. Humplebee's parents attempt to expand their business on the promise of the Chadwick capital, but their business fails, and Chadwick refuses to bail them out.
But Leonard Chadwick reappears on the scene and appears to be about to rescue Humplebee's fortunes. And just in the nick of time because Humplebee is in love and in desperate need of financial stability in order to propose to his beloved. And then something completely unexpected and devastating happens which puts Humplebee's character and relationship to the test....