The novel starts out when John is about twelve. He is the son of a prosperous, landowning farmer, and is away at school. As the book picks up, John Frye, one of his father's hired men, comes to fetch him home, though he refuses to say why. On the way, they stop at an inn, where John meets a French maid, servant to an elegant lady whom he sees in her carriage, along with a young boy and a pretty little girl. John Ridd and John Frye continue on their way, and the following evening finds them travelling a dangerous portion of the road, known to be frequented by the Doones.
They reach John's home without further incident, and he finds out what John Frye had refused to tell him. Stopped on the road by a company of Doones, John's father had the temerity to resist being robbed by them, and was brutally murdered. Overcome by her grief and rage, John's mother sets out alone for Doone territory. She demands to see Sir Ensor, and is blindfolded and taken to him. Sir Ensor behaves like a superior aristocrat to her, though he and his murderous brood are nothing but criminal rabble. In response to her accusations, Sir Ensor calls for his son, Counsellor, who is the well educated Doone. He condescendingly tells the grieving widow that what really happened was that some innocent members of their family were set upon by a robber- her husband- who was sadly killed when they were forced to defend themselves. He further states that, under law, the Ridd farm and property is forfeit to the Doones as payment for Farmer Ridd's crime. Sir Ensor magnanimously declines to collect, and Mrs. Ridd is again blindfolded and led away. As she leaves, one of the Doones, who apparently has some small trace of conscience left, surreptitiously pushes a bag of coins into her hands. She lets it drop to the ground, refusing to take blood money from her husband's killers.