Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 918
Frank Wellborn, who by his prodigality had gone through a fortune and lost most of his friends, is now at a point where even the alehouses refuse to give him food or drink. One morning, as he is about to be thrown from an alehouse, he meets a young page whom he had once befriended. The boy, Allworth, offers to lend him money, but Wellborn refuses, knowing how little the boy has. Allworth confides to Wellborn that he is in love with Margaret, daughter of Sir Giles Overreach, who had despoiled young Wellborn in earlier days.
Later in the morning, Wellborn sees Allworth’s widowed, wealthy young stepmother, Lady Allworth. When the lady promises to help him restore his reputation, his only request is that she receive him as a gentleman in her house. Meanwhile, Sir Giles Overreach is laying plans for his daughter’s marriage, and for his own as well. After he marries Margaret to the rich Lord Lovell, he himself plans to marry Lady Allworth.
Overreach is angered to discover that Lady Allworth, who refuses to be at home to him, has entertained the prodigal Wellborn as if he were a suitor. His anger is somewhat dissipated, however, by Lord Lovell’s visit. He realizes also that if Wellborn gets his hands on Lady Allworth’s fortune, he, as the young man’s uncle and creditor, might take it away.
Lovell, who had promised to visit Overreach’s country place, knows of the love between Margaret and his page, Allworth, and he promises the page that he will do all he can to further the affair. Upon his arrival at the Overreach estate, he tells Margaret of his plans, and the two pretend to carry on a courtship to deceive her father.
During Lovell’s visit, Lady Allworth, accompanied by Wellborn, arrives also. Overreach, who is not in love with Lady Allworth but only desires her money, is pleased by the prospect of marrying his daughter to a nobleman and getting his hands on Lady Allworth’s fortune through her possible marriage to his prodigal nephew. He even offers money to Wellborn, so that the latter can pay off his debts and appear once again as a respectable gentleman.
After the party leaves Overreach’s estate, Lovell releases young Allworth from his position and tells of further plans to help the page’s suit. He intends to send the young man, ostensibly as a letter carrier, every day to the young woman.
Overreach reveals his true character to Lovell by promising him anything if the nobleman would marry his daughter. The miser even offers lands belonging to Lady Allworth, who is highly esteemed by Lovell. When Overreach is told that those are not his to give, he explains to Lovell how he had acquired a fortune and would accumulate another. Lovell, indignant at what he hears, promises himself to right the many wrongs Overreach has done and decides to aid young Allworth’s suit. Lovell tells Lady Allworth that he could never marry into the Overreach family. He adds that he had an honorable motive in the pretense she had seen.
Meanwhile, the suspected marriage between Lady Allworth and Wellborn, which has no basis in fact except that she treats him as a friend, causes Wellborn’s debtors to drop their claims against him. Wellborn pays his debts, however, with the money his uncle lends on the strength of the supposed marriage.
One of Overreach’s hangers-on, Marrall, promises to help Wellborn regain his lands, which his uncle had fraudulently taken from him for a fraction of their value. Marrall tells Wellborn to ask Overreach to present the deed.
At Overreach’s house, young Allworth supposedly carries a letter to Margaret, which gives him a chance to talk with her. Overreach, reading the letter, learns that Lovell asks Margaret to marry him forthwith. Overjoyed, the miser sends a letter of command to his manor priest, telling the chaplain to marry Margaret to the gentleman who accompanies her with the letter. The young people leave and are immediately married, the letter acting as a means of getting the clergyman to perform the private ceremony.
Lady Allworth tells Lovell that she helped Wellborn regain his former position because Wellborn aided her dead husband in years gone by. With that action made clear, Lovell asks her to marry him. Lady Allworth consents. A short time later, Overreach appears, driving Marrall before him and questioning him about a document that had disappeared. Overreach is also hunting for his daughter, who failed to return home the night before. In his anger, Overreach asks for the thousand pounds he had lent to Wellborn. Wellborn, in turn, demands an accounting of his estates. Overreach takes his strongbox and removes a parchment that proves to be only a sealed paper with no writing on it. Marrall had removed the true deed.
Overreach realizes that he no longer has any legal right to Wellborn’s lands. His daughter and young Allworth, married the day before, arrive to tell of their marriage, in which Overreach had unconsciously aided them by sending a letter to his clergyman.
Overreach, angered beyond measure, would have killed his daughter with his sword, had not Lovell stopped him. Lord Lovell then announces his intended marriage to Lady Allworth and promises to speed the unraveling of Overreach’s affairs so that Wellborn could regain his estates, and Margaret and her husband could have their rightful portion of the miser’s wealth.
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