Alone on stage, Hardcastle wonders aloud why his friend Sir Charles described Marlow as a modest man. He has been shocked by Marlow’s presumptuousness: Marlow has sat in his chair by the fire and asked him to have his boots cleaned.
Hardcastle planned to impress his friend’s son with the elegant way his home is run, but instead Marlow has scoffed at his arrangements and made rude demands. Tony’s trick is having its desired effect on his step-father.
Kate enters. She is now wearing the plain clothing her father prefers. He says that there was no reason for her to change because he was mistaken in thinking she might marry the modest Marlow. Both Kate and Hardcastle express astonishment at Marlow’s behavior, but Hardcastle mistakenly thinks that Kate also experienced his behavior as impudent (when in fact she experienced his extreme shyness). Hardcastle says that Marlow learned it all from a French dancing master, but Kate says then he wouldn’t be so timid and awkward. They compare their experiences with Marlow and discover that they are entirely different.
Hardcastle believes that Marlow’s rudeness is a sign of the bad influence of the French on fashionable, rich young men (or “macaronis”) of the time, turning them arrogant, rude, and entitled. Kate, on the other hand, has met the version of Marlow who is hobbled by his own shyness. Like her father, she believes that these experiences should give Marlow confidence, but she has seen how little self-assurance his broad exposure to the world has really given him.
Hardcastle says that at least they are agreed on the matter of rejecting Marlow, but Kate urges that they give him another chance. She says that he is the kind of man you seldom meet in the countryside and he might have a better character than first impressions suggest. Hardcastle scoffs, saying that Kate, like most women, thinks she can shape Marlow into a good husband because she finds him physically attractive. Kate reminds her father that he thinks more highly of her intelligence than this, and he apologizes for the insult. They agree to give Marlow another chance and see who is right, whether he is the impudent man who offended Hardcastle or the shy one who was too modest to speak to Kate. Then they both exit.
Kate shrewdly realizes that, given her geographic isolation and her father’s dislike of traveling to town, she is unlikely to meet many other men who will be as good a match for her as Marlow is. While her father initially ridicules this, believing she has only shallow considerations like Marlow’s appearance in mind, Kate’s gentle reminder to her father is enough to draw an apology from him because of their strong and mutually respectful relationship.
Tony enters, holding a box of Constance’s jewels. Hastings enters and asks Tony if he has been pretending to love Constance so that Mrs. Hardcastle will not suspect the planned elopement. Tony does not answer this question, instead telling Hastings that he has taken Constance’s jewels for them. He hands Hastings the box of jewels. Hastings asks how Tony got the jewels, and Tony says that he has keys to his mother’s drawers, from which he often takes money to go to the alehouse. He rationalizes that this is not stealing because the money is meant for him eventually. Hastings points out that Constance is currently trying to convince Mrs. Hardcastle to give them the jewels and that that would be a more appropriate way to procure them, but Tony predicts that his mother will not relinquish the jewels and tells Hastings to hold onto the box for now. Hastings worries about how Mrs. Hardcastle will react when she sees the jewels are gone.
Hastings had not imagined that Tony would steal the jewels for them, because this is undignified and unethical. He had only hoped that Tony would aid Constance in pullng the wool over Mrs. Hardcastle’s eyes. But Tony explains that he is used to stealing from his mother, who will never be convinced to relinquish any control over him or Constance. Tony’s lack of respect for his mother and for normal codes of behavior are both symptoms of her smothering upbringing and refusal to allow him independence now that he is an adult. Hastings is unused to this world and still hopes that Constance can trick her aunt into giving her the jewels.
Tony sees Mrs. Hardcastle and Constance approaching and tells Hastings to run off. Hastings exits, and Constance and Mrs. Hardcastle enter, discussing the jewels. Mrs. Hardcastle argues that Constance needs no jewels to enhance her beauty and that jewels are out of fashion. She explains that when her acquaintances go to town with their jewels, they return without them. When Constance continues to press her aunt, saying that the jewels may make Tony like her better, Mrs. Hardcastle says she is not sure that she still has the jewels.
Mrs. Hardcastle cannot be tricked into giving up the jewels because she knows that they give her leverage over Constance. Her explanation that jewels are out of fashion, however, once again reflects her vain obsession with fashion and her poor understanding of the world. Mrs. Hardcastle’s acquaintances do not return from town without their valuable jewels because they are out of fashion, but because they spend or gamble away all their money.
Tony draws his mother aside and tells her that the only way to shut Constance up is to tell her the jewels are lost. Mrs. Hardcastle thinks this is a funny idea and agrees, asking Tony to back up her story. Mrs. Hardcastle tells Constance that the jewels are gone, and Tony says he can confirm this. Constance says that Mrs. Hardcastle could not possibly be so calm about such a loss, since she would have to make up for it. Mrs. Hardcastle says she hopes Constance’s jewels will be found soon, but she will lend her niece garnets to wear in the meantime. Constance says she hates garnets and is very angry when Mrs. Hardcastle goes to get them for her. Tony reassures her, saying she can take the garnets on top of her jewels, which he has already given to Hastings. He tells Constance to run to Hastings. Constance is overjoyed.
Tony suggests to his mother that they deceive Constance, but only because the joke will really be on Mrs. Hardcastle. Mrs. Hardcastle, who wishes to be closer to her son, readily agrees to lie to Constance about something very serious. Constance feels almost certain that she is being lied to, because she knows that Mrs. Hardcastle would not be calm about the fortune going missing. Still, Constance is disturbed at the idea that the jewels could be missing, and Tony will not let this deception to cause trouble by going on for long. He tells her the truth as soon as he has the opportunity.
Mrs. Hardcastle rushes back in, shouting that the jewels have been stolen. Tony commends his mother’s ability to act upset and promises he will bear witness that the jewels have been misplaced. No matter how many times she tells him he is not joking, Tony continues to assure her that he will bear witness to her false story. Eventually she asks if he is laughing at her, and he says he can bear witness to that, too. The mother and son exit, yelling at one another.
While Tony quickly reassured Constance of the truth about her jewels, he has no desire to reduce his mother’s distress. Instead, he takes pleasure in getting back at her for her obsession with the jewels, which she holds over Constance in the same way she holds his inheritance over him.
Kate and her maid, Pimple, enter. Kate has learned about Tony’s prank and laughs with Pimple at Marlow’s mistaking their house for an inn. Pimple tells Kate that Marlow is getting even more confused. When Kate walked past Marlow in her simple clothing, Marlow asked Pimple if Kate was the inn’s barmaid. Kate asks Pimple if she is certain that Marlow doesn’t remember her face from their conversation. Pimple affirms this, and Kate says that he was too shy to try to look at her, and her bonnet also covered her face. Kate says she will not correct Marlow’s mistake. Since he only speaks to lower-class women, Kate will make an impression on him by pretending to be a lower-class woman, while also judging her own interest in him as a potential husband. Kate does an impression of a lower-class woman for Pimple, who tells her it will work to trick Marlow.
The clothing-obsessed Marlow believes he can judge people accurately by what they wear. Seeing Kate in simple clothing, he assumes this corresponds to her stature in the world. Kate decides to play into Marlow’s mistake, because she knows he is more comfortable around lower-class women. She feels confident that he will be attracted to her once the factors that intimidated him are removed. By placing herself in a vulnerable position, she will be able to see his true values. Even though Kate is not entirely put off by the idea of his using his superior status to seduce lower-class women, she wants to see for herself how Marlow really conducts himself.
Pimple exits, and Marlow enters, complaining to himself that there is nowhere in the house to find privacy away from the innkeeper and his wife. Pretending to be a servant, Kate asks him if he called, but he ignores her. He says to himself that Miss Hardcastle seemed much too serious for him, and he thinks she wasn’t very attractive. Kate stands in front of him again, asking if he called for a servant. Still ignoring Kate, Marlow says to himself that he has met Kate as his father asked him to and can now return home. Kate asks him again, and then again, if he called for a servant. He says no over and over.
Marlow tries to reassure himself that he did not miss out on meeting a potential mate when he was too nervous to open up to Kate. He also tells himself that he has done what his father asked, which reveals his anxiety about being able to measure up to his father’s expectations for him. Kate is readying to deceive him by pretending to be a maid, but this speech shows that it is Marlow’s own insecurities that leave him open to being tricked.
Finally, Marlow looks at the “servant” standing in front of him. Immediately interested, he tells her she is beautiful and begins to flirt with her, asking her age and coming close to look at her face. Kate keeps up a steady banter with him, playing the role of a quick-witted, self-respecting, and spirited young woman of the servant class. Marlow tries to kiss her, and she quips that he is trying to learn her age from her mouth as people do when examining horses. Kate remarks that Marlow had been shy and not quite so excitable when he met Miss Hardcastle. Marlow admits to himself that she is right but says to her that Miss Hardcastle was such an awkward, squinting thing that he was not at all intimidated by her, he just didn’t want to hurt her feelings by rejecting her.
Since Marlow was too shy even to look at Kate’s face when he thought she was a member of his own class (and a potential wife), Kate has managed to turn his prejudices about class to her own advantage. While Marlow thinks he is flirting with someone of lower social standing, in fact Kate’s deception has given her power over him. He now feels more at ease and eagerly talks to the “barmaid” about Kate Hardcastle. Because Marlow is attracted to her now, Kate can see that the awkwardness of their first conversation isn’t conclusive proof that they won’t like each other.
Kate, still playing the role of barmaid, says that it sounds like he is a real ladies’ man. He says he is; the women in town call him a Rattle, and he spends time at a club with a bunch of jolly, older women. Kate laughs at this, and Marlow worries that she is laughing at him, but she explains that she can’t imagine how the women have time to take care of their families when they spend time drinking with him. Marlow is reassured that Kate is not laughing at him. He asks if she works, and she says she embroidered everything in the house. He says he wants her to show him her work, and grabs her. She struggles to escape his grasp.
Marlow describes something between a brothel and an inn, where he spends a good deal of time with lower-class women in front of whom he is not self-conscious. In keeping with popular assumptions of the time, Marlow believes that most lower-class women are sexually promiscuous. Clearly, this assumption informs his interaction with the disguised Kate. Although his behavior would perhaps be frowned upon by modern audiences, to Kate it shows that he has passion and energy and is not always crippled by shyness.
Hardcastle walks into the room and is shocked to see Marlow groping Kate. Marlow curses his bad luck at being caught by the innkeeper and leaves the room. Agitated, Hardcastle asks Kate if this is the modest, shy man she described. Kate says that her father should trust her, and that she will prove Marlow to be as he was described. Hardcastle is difficult to convince, saying he wants to throw Marlow out of his house. Kate says she needs an hour to persuade her father, and he grants this, but says that Kate must promise to be transparent with him. Kate agrees, saying she has always been proud to do as he tells her, because he is so kind.
While young lower-class women of this era were assumed to be promiscuous, a high value was placed on protecting young upper-class women from any kind of sexual experience that might be seen as indiscrete. The fact that Kate is able to persuade her father not to throw Marlow out of the house after Hardcastle sees Marlow trying to force himself on Kate is a sign of Hardcastle’s trust and respect for his daughter.