A Woman Killed with Kindness

by Thomas Heywood

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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...

(This entire section contains 1161 words.)

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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 jailer, already paid, refuses to admit him. At last Susan confesses that Acton paid the debts because of his love for her. Knowing that fact, and shamed by his debt to Acton, Mountford feels that there is only one thing to do.

During supper at the Frankfords, Nicholas, by prearrangement, brings a letter to his master at the table. Frankford announces that he is called away immediately on legal business. After he goes, Wendoll thanks fortune that matters work out so well for him and Anne. Anne, however, is not happy in her affair with Wendoll; her conscience tells her that she is lost in sin. Although she succumbed to Wendoll because of his clever rhetoric, she suffers remorse. After dining with Wendoll in her chamber, she directs the servants to lock up the house and to bring her the keys.

Frankford, meanwhile, ties his horse to a tree near the house and with keys that he made for the purpose he and Nicholas creep into the darkened house at midnight. Discovering Wendoll and his wife asleep in each other’s arms, Frankford expresses a desire to turn back the clock so that the shame to his honor might be prevented. Awaking the couple, he chases Wendoll with drawn sword, but a housemaid catches his arm and keeps him from taking Wendoll’s life. Anne, conscience-stricken, asks Frankford to end her life. He decides, however, that death is too good for her; he condemns her to live the rest of her life comfortably but in seclusion in a house on the estate. She is never to set eyes on him again.

In the meantime Mountford suggests to Susan that she give herself to Acton in return for his deed. When Susan objects on grounds of honor, Mountford declares that his soul will not rest until Acton is repaid, and Susan finally agrees to this proposal. When Acton goes to their house, Mountford bitterly offers his sister as payment. Acton is overcome by the magnanimous gesture. At one time he could not dream of marrying poverty-stricken Susan; now he declares that he will proudly take her as his wife.

As Anne, accompanied by her servants, prepares to start on her exile, Nicholas rides up and hands her a lute, the only one of her possessions she left behind her. Tearfully, she declares that the lute, untuned as it is, is a symbol of her marriage. Wendoll, now repentant, meets Anne on the road. When he begins to express his remorse, she, fearful lest he tempt her again before she dies, commands the coachman to drive on to the house where she will end her days.

Later, learning that Anne is near death from a broken heart, Frankford goes to her and forgives her sins. After her death Frankford declares that her epitaph will recall her as a woman killed by her husband’s kindness.