The scene opens with Brady making his way to the prayer meeting outside the courthouse and answering reporters’ questions. It is the evening after the first day of the trial. In response to one British reporter’s question, about Brady’s opinion of Drummond, Brady says that he supports Drummond, personally, as a lawyer and man, but that Brady would fight even his own brother, in a battle of words, if that brother were to take up Drummond’s side in the Hillsboro trial—this is how strongly Brady feels about Hillsboro’s anti-evolution law.
Brady goes to great lengths to state that his initial allegiance is not to man or even to country, but to God’s will on earth—and Brady believes he has a connection to, and an understanding of, this will. Brady’s vanity in his religious belief will later be exposed by Drummond, who recognizes that Brady’s Christianity has become infected by Brady’s desire to be viewed as a public hero.
Brady runs into Hornbeck, the Baltimore reporter, and tells him he has read his progressive, anti-religious, “biased” commentary, and that Brady hopes Hornbeck will stay for the prayer meeting so that he (Hornbeck) might “learn something” about religion. Hornbeck jokes that he does intend to stay for the meeting, but implies that there’s not much, new, that he would learn from it. Mrs. Brady warns Brady that the wind tonight, combined with the warm air, could be uncomfortable for Brady, but he shrugs off her warning.
One of the few direct interactions between Brady and Hornbeck in the play. Although Hornbeck later states that Brady is a loudmouth and a fraud, he is polite enough to Brady here, even though Hornbeck states that he will only go to the prayer meeting in his capacity as a journalist, and not as a believer who wishes to hear a message from God’s representatives on earth.
Reverend Brown and the Bradys sit on a small stage above the courthouse square, overlooking a crowd of Hillsboro citizens. Brown begins his sermon, averring that the Word of God is the true Word, and engaging in a call-and-response with the faithful, outlining for them the seven days of Creation, as told in the book of Genesis. The crowd responds loudly and cheerfully to this part of Brown’s sermon.
Brown demonstrates his own abilities as a public speaker, which are nearly on par with Brady’s. But it becomes clear, even at this early point in Brown’s sermon, that Brown’s public speaking has a bitter, a negative edge, a punishing edge, one which is far less present in Brady’s words.
Brown then turns into a darker part of his speech—he asks the crowd whether they believe that sinners, in their midst, will be punished and destroyed by God. Rachel yells to her father not to damn Cates, as he is implying, to Hell, but Brown plows on, asking God to curse Cates and any who defy God’s word.
Brown now breaks into the fully negative part of his speech, and the crowd does not appear to notice, or to mind, initially, that Brown has ordered for Cates to be punished in Hell—a shocking piece of supposedly “Christian” teaching.
At this point, Brady, who has been made uncomfortable by Brown’s sermon’s darker tinge, takes over the speech, saying that, although religious zeal is good, too much zeal can “destroy the house,” or the congregation, in which that zeal is practiced. Brady repeats a famous line from the Book of Proverbs: “He that troubleth his own house . . . shall inherit the wind.” Brady ends the sermon by asking that, as children of God, all men and women in town remember to forgive one another for their sins.
Brady’s statement, from Proverbs, is that from which the play’s title derives. The statement can be interpreted many ways, but here, Brady appears to state that Brown must not curse one of the members of his church—one of God’s people—but must rather try to help Cates to re-enter the fold. Only by preserving this “house” will Brown be able to maintain the structure of God’s family on earth—rather than inheriting the “wind,” or a church with no congregants.
At this point, the prayer meeting ends, and Brady moves to Drummond, who is in the audience, asking him, privately, why Drummond has “moved away” from Brady, since, at one time, Drummond supported Brady’s candidacy for President, some years ago. But Drummond simply responds to Brady that “motion is relative,” and that Brady has “moved away” from Drummond by “standing still,” or refusing to become more progressive, on certain social issues.
Another interesting point is here revealed—Brady and Drummond have not always been so opposed, but rather are born of the same political movement in American politics—a “progressive” one that attempted to put the “common man’s” interests first. But Drummond implies that Brady has not kept up with the times, and that Brady must liberalize his religious beliefs in order to stay modern and keep pace with a changing society.