The Yeomen of the Guard (or, The Merryman and His Maid)
Meryll and his daughter, Phoebe, await the return of young Leonard Meryll,
who will himself become a Tower Warder. Held prisoner within the Tower
is the dashing Colonel Fairfax, sentenced to death on trumped-up charges
of sorcery so that a scoundrely relative can inherit his fortune, but
only if he dies unmarried. Phoebe is quite infatuated with the prisoner.
It is the day of Fairfax's execution. A reprieve has been issued but,
alas, it will arrive too late to save him.
The Merylls and Sir Richard Cholmondely are determined to prevent this
miscarriage of justice. Leonard arrives and, to abet their plans, agrees
to stay out of sight until needed. Conveniently, a pair of wandering comedians,
Jack Point and Elsie Maynard, arrives. The Lieutenant offers Elsie one
hundred crowns to marry Fairfax, which will disinherit his conniving relative.
She consents since the hapless fellow is destined to die. Jack Point,
who loves Elsie, objects but relents after being employed as official
jester. Elsie is blindfolded and the marriage is performed. Phoebe, flirting
with Wilfred Shadbolt, the loutish jailer who lusts for her, steals the
key and releases the prisoner. Fairfax changes into a Yeoman's uniform
and masquerades as Leonard Meryll. As the crowd assembles for Fairfax's
execution, the hue is raised that he has escaped. Elsie swoons, realizing
she is married to a man she has never seen, who is alive and at large.
As the second act opens, the Yeomen are derided by Dame Carruthers, Housekeeper
to the Tower, for their failure to track Fairfax down. Jack Point, anxious
to marry Elsie, concocts a lie with Shadbolt, claiming to have shot and
killed Fairfax as he attempted to swim the Thames. Shadbolt is hailed
as a hero. Point proposes to Elsie but Fairfax, still disguised as Leonard,
wins her heart, leaving both Point and Phoebe in despair. Wilfred, learning
the truth of the escape, presses Pheobe to marry him as the price for
his silence. Dame Carruthers pressures Sergeant Meryll into matrimony
for the same reason.
As Elsie enters for her wedding to, apparently Leonard Meryll, the reprieve
arrives and Fairfax is exonerated. He reveals his identity and all is
set for a happy ending, when the brokenhearted Jack Point arrives to cast
a sorrowful pall on the crowd's merriment.