The plot is fairly simple: an evil man takes advantage of a virtuous family. There is however a bit more going on in this play and as a result it is more interesting than its basic plot would suggest. Gideon Bloodgood is the evil man, in this case he is a corrupt banker who is about to abscond with the bank’s remaining assets as his investments have failed. He is interrupted in his plans by his wiley clerk Badger who has rightly surmised Bloodgood’s plot. Just as Badger suggests blackmail, a sea captain, Captain Fairweather, shows up with, not only a great name for his job, but with $100,000 that he would like Bloodgood to safeguard for his family while he is away on his next voyage.
So Bloodgood can now run away with Captain Fairweather’s money as well or just use it to save his failing bank. Badger now has more ammuntion to work his blackmail scheme and, as they come to terms, Capt. Fairweather shows ups to get his money back after hearing that Bloodgood is not as trustworthy as he first had heard. A fight ensues and Fairweather is killed. Bloodgood and Badger dispose of his body after which Bloodgood gives Badger money to be silent. Badger moves out west and Bloodgood is saved from financial ruin. Thus ends Act 1.
in Act II we meet our heroes: the Fairweather family, Mrs. Fairweather, the Captain’s widow, son Paul, and daughter Lucy; Mark Livingstone; and, finally the Puffy family, Puffy, Mrs. Puffy, and son Dan. Twenty years have passed. Livingstone is a member of the “new poor” having lost his fortune in the recent wave of bank failures. He has been force to shun his former posh society because of his poverty. He meets the Fairweather’s who have been hiding from society since their father was found dead and apparently robbed of the family’s fortune. In the interim, the Fairweather’s have been living with their faithful servants, The Puffy’s. Livingstone had once been engaged to Lucy but when she and her family were disgraced into poverty, that plan was abandoned. Now that both are poor again the romance rekindles.
Livingstone attempts to get a loan from Bloodgood who has become even more wealthy in the intervening years, Bloodgood’s daughter, Alida is in love with Livingstone and also, mistakenly believing him to be still wealthy and connected, thinks he will get her into the upper society of New York where she longs to be. This causes a rift in the romance of Lucy with both agreeing to not wed to save the other from disgrace. Badger shows up to continue blackmailing Bloodgood. The play ends with Bloodgood starting a fire in the tenement housing of our heores to destroy an incriminating letter. Bloodgood is arrested by Badger who turns out to be a long term undercover cop. Good wins, evill is punished and all is right in the world.
The things that strike me most about the play and why I find it interesting are threefold. The first is the character of Badger; second is the odd class structure; and third is the Bloodgood family and its veiled antisemitism. Despite the terrible reveal at the finale, that Badger is a policeman on a longterm assignment to entrap an evil banker, throughout the play Badger is fascinatingly amoral and charming. The revelation of his true nature is so fleeting and forced that one has no sense of it and, in hindsight, still thinks of him as an appealing rogue.
The class structure of the play is strange. Livingstone and the Fairweathers are poor but not truly proletariat and therefore deserving of more pity because of their previous high class status, Livingstone delivers a speech in which he laments losing wealth and station because there is more humiliation in having become poor that being born to it. He envies the Puffy’s, who are hardy working class folks, unpretentious and kind. Out of pity and duty, they care for their former patrons, the Faiweather’s,knowing that, as genteel people, the Fairweather’s lack the fortitude to bear their hardships unaided.
Bloodgood is an odd and obvious villian. A widower, he is driven to his misdeeds, mostly out of a blind passion to see his daughter become patrician. His daughter is a spoiled voluptuary. While not overtly Jewish, there are some indications that, despite being freakishly wealthy, access to acceptance by the patrician class is somehow denied to him, in a way that the Fairweathers and Livingstone would never be. The Puffy’s, the noble poor, do not harbor such aspirations and, knowing their place, are heroic. The ending is sudden and perfunctory and as mentioned before, trivializes one of the more interesting characters.
I like the play over all. I think because it is sincere in its support of the social hierarchy, it would be effective as satire.