John and Anne Frankford celebrate their marriage feast in the company of a group of relatives and friends. Everyone joins in complimenting the bride on her beauty and on her charming submission to her husband. As the group joins the crowd dancing in the great hall of the house, Sir Francis Acton and Sir Charles Mountford arrange a wager on hawking for the next day. Out in the courtyard, tenants of the Frankford estate celebrate their master’s wedding.
Early the next morning Acton and Mountford and their companions go into the field to match their falcons. Acton loses the wager but declares that Mountford’s falcon broke the rules of the hunt. Following an exchange of hot words, the hunting party divides into two sides. In the fighting Mountford kills two of Acton’s men. Susan, Mountford’s sister, goes to him in the field and advises him to flee, but he declares that he can never leave her. The sheriff arrives and apprehends Mountford.
Frankford, at his home, feels himself supremely happy; he is affluent, well-educated, and blessed with a lovely and virtuous wife. As he reflects upon his felicity, Wendoll, who was in the hunting party, excitedly arrives to report the details of the fatal fight. Frankford, already impressed by Wendoll’s manner, invites the young gentleman to live in his house and to be his companion. Nicholas, Frankford’s faithful servant, observes to himself that there is something about Wendoll that he does not like; he and the other servants express distaste that Wendoll should become a guest in the house.
Mountford, meanwhile, is forced to spend almost his entire patrimony to gain his liberty. As he leaves the jail, he encounters Shafton, an unprincipled man who forces a large sum of money upon him. It is Shafton’s purpose eventually to cheat Mountford out of a small ancestral house he possesses and somehow to win the hand of Mountford’s sister Susan.
Wendoll falls passionately in love with Anne. Conscience-stricken, he is distracted by the dreadful thoughts that go through his mind. When Frankford rides away on business, Anne innocently tells Wendoll that Frankford wishes him to take his place in the household during his absence. Torn between reason and passion, Wendoll succumbs to passion and discloses to Anne his great love for her. Anne at first resists his blandishments, but she is soon overcome by his insistence that his love for her in no way reduces his great affection for and obligation to Frankford. Nicholas, undetected, overhears the conversation and vows to bring the affair to light.
The term of Mountford’s debt to Shafton comes due, and the lender offers to buy Mountford’s house, his last worldly possession. When Mountford refuses to sell at any price, Shafton orders a sergeant to handcuff Mountford and clap him in jail for debt. Hearing what happened, Acton, filled with hatred for Mountford because of the violent dispute over the hawks, declares that he will seduce Susan. When Acton actually sees Susan, he immediately falls in love with her.
On his return Frankford learns from Nicholas that Anne and Wendoll are unfaithful, she to her marriage vows, Wendoll to the bonds of friendship. When Frankford, Anne, Wendoll, and a guest, Cranwell, play cards after dinner, it seems all too clear from the irony revealed in the conversation that Nicholas indeed told the truth. Frankford plans to make certain that Anne is untrue to him.
Susan, meanwhile, asks her uncle, Old Mountford, to help her brother. The old man refuses, as do other men to whom Mountford was generous in former days. When Acton offers Susan a bag of gold, she spurns help from her brother’s enemy. Acton clears Mountford’s debts anonymously. Mountford, released again from jail and from all of his debts, encounters Susan and, to her bewilderment, thanks her for her good work. When the jailer informs the pair that it is Acton who aided them, Mountford, unable to accept the generosity of an enemy, proposes to return to jail. The...
(The entire section is 1,161 words.)