Short summary - The Glass of Water: or, Effects and Causes
The beginning of the 18th century England, along with Austria, Prussia and other countries, is waging an endless and exhausting war for the Spanish succession against the Franco-Spanish coalition. England is ruled by a weak-willed and compliant Queen Anne, who does not make decisions without consulting those around her. In fact, the reins of government are in the hands of Lady Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough. She is a woman of a firm mind, decisive and courageous, experienced in palace intrigues. Her husband, the famous and greedy Marshal of Marlborough, commands the English army and is not at all interested in ending the war, which drains the state treasury, but successfully fills his pockets.
The Marlborough party, the Whig party, is opposed by the Tory opposition. It is headed by Henry Saint-John, Viscount Bolinbrook, a keen political player who breathes deeply at tumultuous parliamentary sessions like an English sailor at sea. Until the age of twenty-six, he thoughtlessly enjoyed life and spent his fortune until it dried up. To improve matters, he marries a charming woman with a million dowry and a million whims and shortcomings.
Married life soon becomes unbearable, Bolinbrok breaks up with his wife and is passionate about politics. His wife belongs to the Whig party. Naturally, he is affiliated with the Tory party. He speaks in parliament to call for peace with France and publishes angry articles about corruption in the army in his newspaper, The Examiniter. Bolinbrok seeks to secure an audience with Queen Anne for the French ambassador, the Marquis de Torcy. In this he can be helped by Arthur Meshem, a guard officer in the palace.
Two years ago, this young provincial nobleman, lost in London, is about to throw himself into the Thames, because he does not have twenty-five guineas. Bolinbrok gives him two hundred guineas and saves him from death. Meshem hopes to convey to the queen a petition for a position at court and one day he almost manages to break through the crowd at the carriage when the socialite pushes him away and snaps on the nose. However, the petition is filed, and Meshem receives an invitation to an audience, but when he goes to the palace, the crew of the same dandy throws mud at his only decent jacket. It would seem that everything is lost, but suddenly he has a mysterious patron - he gets the job of the queen's page, then the rank of warrant officer of the Guards regiment and hopes for new good deeds with the only condition - he should not marry.
Meanwhile, he is passionately in love with the charming Abigail, who served in a jewelry store until his owner went bankrupt. Now she is promised a place at court, and the promise also comes from a mysterious benefactress, who turns out to be the queen herself. However, the appointment depends on the all-powerful Lady Marlborough. The naive Abigail hopes that Lady Marlborough will help her, since she is her relative, the daughter of Lady Marlborough's unequal cousin. Bolinbrok explains to the girl that there is no limit to the cunning of the Duchess. Bolinbroke, Meshem and Abigail form a defensive and offensive alliance against Lady Marlborough.
Bolinbrok expects that if Abigail gets a place at court, he will be able to influence the queen. Meshem's duties include giving the Queen the Fashionable People newspaper every day - all other sources of information are excluded by the favorite. Meshem undertakes to hand over to the Queen the letters of the Marquis de Torcy, the envoy of Louis XVI, and the Examiniter newspaper with Bolinbrock's revelatory article against the Marlborough party. However, the Duchess intercepts "illegal investments" and sarcastically informs Bolinbroke that she is in her hands - she bought up all his promissory notes for a pittance and intends to put him in jail. Bolinbrook is delighted to have such a worthy opponent and is about to strike again in parliament.
Meanwhile, Meshem meets his longtime abuser in the palace park and kills him in a duel. No one has seen him, but he faces the death penalty under the harsh dueling law. He must run. Bolinbroke manages to give the Queen a note in which he cautiously recommends Abigail. The queen would like to bring the girl she liked closer to her, but the duchess, fearing outside influence, convinces her of the undesirability of such an act. At the same time, she reports that she found a way to give the rank of captain to a diligent young man, to whom the queen turned her favorable attention - Meshem. The Queen is pleased with the favorite and forgets about Abigail. The girl is in despair.
Bolinbroke, on the other hand, smiles at fortune - he becomes the heir of a huge fortune, since the fabulous who was killed by Meshem in a duel is his cousin Richard, the embodiment of greed and insignificance, the most cruel of his creditors. Immediately bought out debt obligations, Bolinbrok again owns the situation. He demands to punish the murderer severely, but as soon as he learns from Abigail that it is about Meshem, he convinces her not to worry - he will try not to find him. At this moment Meshem appears. He did not run at all, since a messenger caught up with him with an order for a new appointment. He is ordered to be with the queen. A mysterious patron sends him the signs of a new rank - diamond tips for aiguillettes. Abigail recognizes the diamonds that she herself sold to Lady Marlborough when she was in the jewelry store. The patron's incognito is revealed (Meshem does not know about it at that moment), and Bolinbrok gets the opportunity to strike another blow to his opponent.
Abigail finds a place with the queen and immediately becomes her favorite. The Queen complains to Abigail about lack of freedom in everything and vaguely hints that she is carried away by a certain young officer. Knowing nothing, Abigail offers his help to the queen. Bolinbrok is finally admitted to the queen and tries to touch her with stories of the plight of the people, the hardships and sacrifices caused by the war. She is frankly bored and revives only when she is informed that the duchess is interested in continuing the war, which keeps her husband in the army and allows her to indulge in sweet pleasures with Meshem. The queen is furious. This is how Bolinbroke learns that she also loves Meshem.
The Duchess announces to Meshem that she intends to give him an important assignment and asks to come to her after the evening reception at the Queen's. Inadvertently, she becomes aware that it was Meshem who killed Richard Bolinbroke. The Queen also decides to make an appointment with Meshem and during the reception she must give a conditional sign: in the presence of guests, she will complain about the heat and ask Meshem for a glass of water. Bolinbrok informs the duchess that a certain noble lady is going to make an appointment with Meshem. In exchange for this information, he receives an invitation to the court for the Marquis de Torcy. The Duchess is unpleasantly intrigued. During a card game, to which, unexpectedly for everyone, the Marquis de Torcy was admitted, the queen asks Meshem to give her some water. The Duchess is completely confused and makes mistake after mistake. Instead of Meshem, she serves a glass of water and throws it over the queen's dress. The queen is angry, they exchange barbs. The result is the resignation of the Duchess. But she doesn't give up. Through her supporters, she manages to convince the queen that she loves not Meshem, but something completely different. The Queen is ready to forgive her. Bolinbrok clarifies another misconception. The Duchess vows to dishonor the Queen. Meshem brings for the Queen's signature papers on the dissolution of Parliament and the appointment of Bolinbrock as minister. A terrible noise makes him hide on the balcony. The duchess appears, accompanied by a crowd of courtiers, and discovers Meshem in the queen's private chambers. Abigail falls to her knees and asks for forgiveness for secretly accepting Meshem from the queen. Bolinbrok adds that Meshem, accused of murder, has come to say goodbye to his wife, Abigail Churchill. The Queen, after a short amount of confusion, forgives Abigail and Meshem and announces the appointment of Bolinbrock as minister and the beginning of peace negotiations with France. So the Lord and Lady Marlborough are overthrown, the peace is made - and all this thanks to a glass of water, as Bolinbroke says.