Aimwell and Archer, two younger sons who are down to their last two hundred pounds, leave London and travel to Lichfield, where they hope that Aimwell will marry an heiress and thus make their fortunes. Aimwell poses as his older brother, Lord Aimwell, and Archer assumes the livery of a servant. Arriving in Lichfield, they go to an inn, where the innkeeper at first mistakes them for highwaymen traveling in disguise.
In Lichfield they learn that Dorinda, sister of Sullen, the local squire, is an heiress in her own right. Aimwell goes to church on Sunday to call himself to her attention and to see her for himself. Back at the inn, Archer makes advances to the innkeeper’s daughter, Cherry. He finds her ready to marry him and bring him a dower of two thousand pounds. Despite the fact that she is pretty and well-dowered, he cannot, as a gentleman, make up his mind to marry her.
After church, Dorinda and her sister-in-law, Mrs. Sullen, talk about the gentleman they saw at the service. Dorinda decides that she is in love with him. Citing her own unhappy marriage to the brutal and drunken Sullen, Mrs. Sullen urges her not to hurry into matrimony. Mrs. Sullen also discloses that she is enjoying a flirtation with Bellair, a French officer held prisoner in Lichfield. Dorinda agrees to help Mrs. Sullen in her flirtation as long as Mrs. Sullen retains her honor.
At the inn, the landlord, who is in league with a gang of robbers, talks with the highwayman Gibbet about Aimwell and Archer. The evasiveness of Archer and Aimwell, when questioned, make the innkeeper and Gibbet even more certain that the two are also highwaymen. The innkeeper’s daughter, overhearing the conversation, resolves to help Archer.
Meanwhile Dorinda and Mrs. Sullen try to learn more about Aimwell. They have their servant invite his supposed servant, Archer, to the house so that they can question him about his master. While the two women make their plans, Gibbet introduces himself to Aimwell and tries to find out who Aimwell might be. They are both introduced to Foigard, who claims to be a French priest but is actually an Irishman in disguise.
At the Sullen house, Dorinda and Mrs. Sullen question Archer about his master. Mrs. Sullen, seeing through his disguise as a servant, becomes infatuated with him. Dorinda and Mrs. Sullen later agree that Aimwell and Archer must be hiding after a duel, since both of them are obviously gentlemen. Later in the day, Bellair...
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