Captain Plume, commander of a company of grenadiers, and his aide, Sergeant Kite, arrive in Shrewsbury to enlist a number of recruits for Captain Plume’s command. They have traveled to Shrewsbury because of success in gaining recruits in that city some months before and because of Captain Plume’s amorous successes at the same time. Upon their arrival the pair are greeted with the news that a young woman who has just given birth has named Captain Plume as the baby’s father. At the captain’s request, Sergeant Kite marries the woman and goes on record as the father of the child. This is not the first time he has done as much for the captain; he has accumulated a list of six wives in the same manner.
Captain Plume also finds his good friend Mr. Worthy at Shrewsbury. Worthy had been a happy-go-lucky chap, much like Captain Plume, until his fiancé inherited a fortune. The young woman, Melinda, has taken on airs since becoming rich, and she has proceeded to make life miserable for Worthy. His latest grievance is that another officer on recruiting duty, one Captain Brazen, has apparently become a successful rival for Melinda’s hand and fortune. Captain Plume asks Worthy about Melinda’s cousin Sylvia Balance, whom the captain loves but cannot marry because his life is too uncertain and he has too little money. Worthy tells Captain Plume that Sylvia Balance still thinks very well of him.
While Worthy and Captain Plume are talking, Melinda and Sylvia are having a conversation of their own, in which Sylvia tells her cousin that she is determined that the captain should not leave Shrewsbury alone. The two women quarrel, and after Sylvia’s departure Melinda writes a letter to Sylvia’s father in which she tells him that Captain Plume intends to dishonor Sylvia. That evening Captain Plume has dinner with Sylvia and her father, Justice Balance, who considers the captain a fine match for his daughter. During the evening, news comes from Germany by mail that Justice Balance’s son and heir has died. Immediately Justice Balance revises his attitude toward Captain Plume, for he does not like to think of the captain as his daughter’s husband if Sylvia is to inherit all of his fortune. Calling Sylvia into private conference, he tells her of the change in his attitude. Although the young woman is very much in love with the captain, she promises that she will not marry without her father’s consent. Captain Plume leaves the house without learning what has happened, and a short time after his departure, Melinda’s spiteful letter to Sylvia’s father arrives. After reading the letter, Justice Balance, concerned with getting Sylvia away from the captain, immediately sends her by coach to one of his country estates.
When Worthy and Captain Plume learn of Sylvia’s departure, they interpret the action erroneously: They think that she believes herself too good for the captain now that she is to inherit a fortune of two thousand pounds a year. The captain, claiming that he can get along fine without her, proceeds to go about his business of recruiting. While doing so, he meets Rose, the pretty young daughter of a farmer. Rose and he immediately fancy each other, and the captain goes so far as to give his half-promise that he will make the young woman his wife. In return, she helps him to add almost a dozen more recruits to his company, including her own brother and her former sweetheart.
One day Sylvia, disguised in some of her brother’s clothes, returns to Shrewsbury, where she meets the two recruiting officers,...
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Captain Plume and Captain Brazen, in the company of Melinda. When she tells them that she is Mr. Willful, a young man of good family who wishes to enlist, they both bid for the new recruit; Mr. Willful finally agrees to join Captain Plume’s company. The captain is so pleased with young Mr. Willful that he proffers his friendship, even though the recruit is to be an enlisted man in the company.
Saying that he will be censured for entering the army voluntarily, the recruit asks Captain Plume to have him impressed into service by the provisions of the acts of Parliament. The captain agrees to do so. To help her deception, and to test the direction of Captain Plume’s affections, Sylvia in her disguise also pretends to be in love with Rose.
Worthy’s fiancé, meanwhile, goes to see a fortune-teller—actually Sergeant Kite in disguise. The fortune-teller tells Melinda that she will die unmarried if she lets a man who is to call on her at ten o’clock the following morning leave the country. Kite has also managed to secure a copy of her handwriting, which he shows her in an attempt to make her think the devil is his helper. Melinda is so impressed that she promises herself that she will follow the fortune-teller’s advice.
Justice Balance decides that the best way to keep his daughter’s honor and fortune from falling into the hands of Captain Plume is to provide the officer with the soldiers he needs, drafting them according to the provision made by Parliament. In order to do so, the justice opens his court and has the bailiff bring in a number of men who are eligible for the draft. Among the men is Sylvia in her disguise as Mr. Willful. Mr. Willful has been accused of having taken Rose as a common-law wife. In the courtroom Mr. Willful behaves impudently, and the justice decides to punish the brash young man by sending him off as a private in Captain Plume’s company. Thus Sylvia tricks her father into sending her away with the captain. In fact, the justice orders Captain Plume not to discharge Mr. Willful for any reason.
After the hearing, Justice Balance goes to his home, where he learns that his daughter, dressed in her deceased brother’s clothes, has disappeared from his country estate. The justice immediately realizes that he has been tricked, that the Mr. Willful whom he has sent off with Captain Plume is really Sylvia. He also thinks that Captain Plume has been a party to the deception. When the captain calls at the justice’s home a short time later, however, it is soon apparent that he knew nothing of the scheme, for he agrees to discharge the new soldier at Justice Balance’s request.
Mr. Willful is called in and unmasked as Sylvia. Then the justice, realizing how much his daughter loves the captain, gives them permission to marry. Immediately thereafter, Worthy and Melinda arrive to say that they have reached an agreement and are to be married shortly. Melinda also apologizes for the spiteful letter she sent to Justice Balance. Captain Plume, pleased at the prospect of the handsome fortune coming to him with his wife, announces that he is retiring from the army. He turns over all the recruits he has enlisted to Captain Brazen, who has been unsuccessful in finding any men for his company.