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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 926

Elder Loveless, who had fallen out of favor with his mistress because he forced her to kiss him in public, humbly begged her pardon and urged her for the hundredth time to marry him. She was adamant, however; for penance he must travel for a year abroad. Dejectedly Elder Loveless prepared for his journey, leaving his house and income to the none too tender mercies of his dissolute younger brother, who had already squandered his own lands and rents. Immediately after the door closed on his elder brother, Young Loveless and his four cronies—a Captain, a Traveler, a Poet, and a Tobaccoman—began their carousing. Over the protests of his brother’s faithful steward, Savil, Young Loveless surveyed his good fortune and delightedly anticipated the unlimited supply of drink and doxies his brother’s estate would buy.

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At the same time, a new suitor for the Lady’s hand, Welford, arrived at her house. Because of his generosity and good looks, he was warmly received by Sir Roger, the Lady’s curate, and Abigail, her aging and lecherous gentlewoman; however, he got but cold favor from the Lady herself, for in spite of her harsh treatment of Elder Loveless, she had actually given him her heart.

His vows to his mistress notwithstanding, Elder Loveless did not take ship. Instead, he disguised himself and returned in order to test his brother and his sweetheart by reporting his own death. He arrived at his house to find his brother in the midst of another round of debauchery. Young Loveless took the sad news with amazing calmness: he commended his brother’s soul to God, filled a bumper, and drank with the company to his elder brother’s demise. And as soon as the disguised brother left, Young Loveless rejoiced at the prospect of running through the estate he had just inherited.

Elder Loveless then delivered the news of his death to the Lady. The reception was at first all that he could wish. The Lady burst into tears; but as Elder Loveless continued to berate her for her cruelty to her lover, she penetrated his disguise and retaliated by pretending affection for Welford, who was considerably startled but pleased by the Lady’s sudden change in attitude toward him. Exasperated, Elder Loveless threw off his disguise, whereupon the Lady, revealing that she had known him all along, bade him fulfill the task she had set him if he ever expected to enjoy her favor. Elder Loveless retired in confusion. Welford then attempted to press the advantage he believed now offered him, but the Lady, once again drastically altering her tone, ordered him to be on his way. When Abigail offered herself as second choice, Welford, thoroughly disgusted, insulted her and called for his horses.

Meanwhile, Young Loveless had been hard at work disposing of his brother’s estate. From Morecraft, the usurer who had bilked him of his own fortune, he obtained _GCP_6,000 after promising to consummate the sale later. Morecraft was delighted with the bargain; from its profits he expected to obtain a knighthood and the hand of a wealthy and beautiful widow.

When Morecraft and the Widow met Young Loveless to take possession of Elder Loveless’ house, Young Loveless and the Widow were immediately attracted to each other. Before the keys could be delivered to Morecraft, however, Elder Loveless reappeared in his own person. Young Loveless, who was equal to any shift in fortune, greeted his supposedly dead brother with his usual equanimity. Although the usurer declared the sale void, Young Loveless, refusing to return the money, told Morecraft to regard his hard luck as a fair requital for the cozening he had been responsible for in the past. The Widow applauded Young Loveless’ shrewdness, whereupon she rejected Morecraft and struck up a match with the clever young wastrel.

Elder Loveless, equally determined not to travel and to win his lady, tried another gambit. Visiting her once more, he adopted a scoffing tone, made light of her former domination of him, and declared that he loved her no longer. The Lady, not so easily tricked, countered with that feminine ruse, a feigned swoon. As the remorseful Elder Loveless rushed to comfort her, she burst into laughter and ridiculed him for attempting such a transparent deception. But she carried her ridicule too far. Elder Loveless, now really angry, left, ignoring her earnest pleas that he return to her.

His love, however, was stronger than his anger. Together with Welford, who was quite as willing to have Martha, the Lady’s lovely younger sister, as the Lady herself, Elder Loveless planned a last desperate ruse to win his mistress. Welford was disguised as a woman, and Elder Loveless presented him to the Lady as his future bride. This time the Lady was thoroughly taken in. When Elder Loveless compared her treatment of him with the homely virtues of his new sweetheart, the Lady, believing that she had lost her faithful lover, attempted to save the situation by offering to marry him immediately. Elder Loveless accepted her proposal and Martha, pitying Elder Loveless’ supposedly abandoned sweetheart, took the still disguised Welford to bed with her.

The next morning the men had the last laugh as Elder Loveless revealed the plot to the Lady. Welford and the embarrassed Martha hurried off to church. Young Loveless and his new bride appeared on the scene; Sir Roger and Abigail were united, and Morecraft, transformed from usurer to rake, drank to the general happiness of all and distributed money among the servants.

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