Hastings and Constance enter. Constance tells Hastings that Hardcastle has received a letter from Sir Charles saying that he is coming to visit that night. Hastings says they must leave that night, before Sir Charles can reveal his identity to the Hardcastles. He assures her that he has her jewels and has given them to Marlow for safekeeping. He also says that Tony has promised him fresh horses for the trip. Hastings exits, and Constance sets off to distract her aunt by pretending to love Tony.
Hastings has pretended to be a total stranger to Constance to keep Mrs. Hardcastle from trying to keep them apart. Meanwhile, Tony is doing all that he can to help Hastings and Constance because he hopes his mother will stop trying to force him to marry someone he doesn’t love once his cousin Constance is no longer available.
Marlow enters with a servant. He says he can’t imagine what Hastings was thinking, giving him a box of valuables to look after when he knows they are both travelling. He asks the servant whether he gave the box to the inn’s landlady for safekeeping as he had asked. (The “landlady” is in fact not a landlady at all, but Mrs. Hardcastle.) The servant says that he had done as told, and that the landlady had demanded to know how he had gotten the box and who he was. The servant exits. Marlow laughs to himself at this report, thinking that the landlord and landlady are both very eccentric. He also thinks about the barmaid he met (Kate), and vows to try again to seduce her.
Hastings’s decision to allow Marlow to continue in his belief that the Hardcastles home is an inn brings a consequence he didn’t anticipate. Marlow, believing he is helping Hastings elope without a hitch, has instead returned the box of jewels that Tony stole from Mrs. Hardcastle’s drawers to her. Mrs. Hardcastle was suspicious that the servant who gave the box of jewels back to her was the thief, not realizing that Tony stole the jewels to give them to Constance.
Hastings enters the room, flustered by all his preparations for the elopement. He notices Marlow’s good mood. Marlow tells him that, despite his shyness, he has met a woman, a beautiful barmaid. Hastings asks Marlow if he is sure that the woman wants to sleep with him and says he should not take a woman’s honor. Marlow says that barmaids have no honor, and he certainly won’t do anything in the inn without paying for it, including sleeping with the barmaid. He promises Hastings that if the girl is not as promiscuous as he assumes, he will not try to sleep with her.
Marlow assumes that, unlike women of his class (who are supposed to remain virgins until marriage), lower-class women are happy to have sex with him as long as he pays them afterwards. Marlow’s belief in a fundamental difference between upper-class women and lower-class women is shown to be false by his inability to recognize that Kate, an upper-class woman, is masquerading as a barmaid.
Hastings asks Marlow if he stashed the box of jewels somewhere safe as he asked him to. Laughing, Marlow tells Hastings he was foolish to think of putting such a valuable item in a coach, and explains that he had the better idea of giving them to the landlady. Hastings is shocked and disappointed that Mrs. Hardcastle now has the jewels again. He says to himself that he has lost any hope of having a fortune, but puts on a happy face for Marlow. He tells Marlow he hopes he will have as much luck with the barmaid as he had in stashing the jewels. Laughing a bit hysterically, he leaves.
Hastings believes Marlow will be so embarrassed if he learns the truth about where they are that he will leave immediately, ruining both their chances at love. So, even though Hastings is bitterly disappointed to learn that Marlow has taken it upon himself to stash Constance’s jewels more “safely” by giving them back to Mrs. Hardcastle, he does not reveal his feelings.
Hardcastle enters the room. He says to himself that he can hardly contain his anger at Marlow, whose servants have gotten very drunk. He says to Marlow that he hopes he feels that he has been made welcome, but Marlow’s servants are setting a terrible example for his servants with the way they are drinking. Marlow misunderstands Mr. Hardcastle’s complaint, thinking the innkeeper is upset because Marlow’s servants are not drinking enough, thus depriving the innkeeper of income. He tells Hardcastle this and calls for his servant. The servant is extremely drunk, and Marlow points to this as proof that he is being a good guest.
Hardcastle, who has prepared his servants to be on their best behavior in front of Marlow, is shocked and appalled to hear that Marlow has effectively instructed his own servants to act as badly as possible. In the same way that Marlow assumes he can sleep with a barmaid as long as he pays her afterwards, he assumes that the innkeeper wants to sell as much alcohol as possible, even if it means rowdy, disrespectful guests.
Hardcastle loses his patience entirely and tells Marlow he is kicking him out of the house. Marlow is shocked, and says he has been doing everything he can to please Hardcastle. He initially refuses to go, saying he has a right to stay, that it is his house. Outraged, Hardcastle tells Marlow to take the silver, and the mahogany table, his Hogarth print of the Rake’s Progress, and all the other valuable possessions in the house. Marlow demands the bill, but Hardcastle ignores this, continuing to berate Marlow for his bad manners. Before storming from the room, Hardcastle says that he expected a polite young man based on Sir Charles’s letter, but instead he sees that Marlow is a bully. He swears that he will tell Marlow’s father all about his behavior.
Hardcastle pointedly offers Marlow a popular Hogarth print depicting the downfall of a rake. The rake, like the macaroni, was a popular stereotype of a spoiled, arrogant, free-wheeling young man who thinks he is better than everyone around him. In his rage, Hardcastle gives vent to the truth about his identity as Sir Charles’s friend, finally bringing Marlow’s mistake out into the open. Marlow had, of course, only come to visit the Hardcastles to please his father, and will be mortified to learn that he has been mistreating Hardcastle.
Left alone, Marlow wonders what Hardcastle’s last statement could have meant. Kate enters and sees that Marlow seems to be realizing he is not in an inn. She says to herself that she will not disclose the full truth to him yet. He stops her and asks who she is. She replies that she is a poor relation of the house. He asks if she means she serves as a barmaid in the inn, and she laughs in feigned surprise, saying that this is Mr. Hardcastle’s house. Marlow feels humiliated and is sure the story of his mistake will spread far and wide.
Realizing that Marlow may become shy again, or even angry, if she reveals her true identity as a woman of his own class, Kate continues to pretend to be poor. However, she brings herself slightly closer to Marlow in status by saying she is related to the Hardcastles.
Marlow tells Kate that he mistook her for the barmaid of the inn. She pretends to be hurt by the idea that she could have such a low status. Marlow explains that he stupidly misunderstood everything around him and now he wants to get away from the scene of his humiliation. Pretending to cry, Kate says she hopes that she didn’t do anything to drive Marlow away, especially because he has been so kind to her.
Kate understands that Marlow thought that she would sleep with him because she was a barmaid. By acting offended, she suggests to him that he is mistaken to assume that he knows what class people come from and that their class will dictate everything about their behavior and values. At the same time, Kate’s show of emotion distracts Marlow from his own feelings of embarrassment.
Marlow is touched to see how sad Kate is to see him go. He tells her she is the only person in the family he will be sorry to part with. But, he explains, he could never hope for a romance between them because they come from such different backgrounds. He adds that he could never try to seduce her, since he can see that she is virtuous and trusting. To herself, Kate registers approval at his unwillingness to try to seduce a virgin.
Marlow often assumes he is better than those in the lower class, but this seems to arise from a need to escape his own insecurities about not measuring up to the role of an upper-class man. Even though he acts disrespectfully to those he believes are inferior to him, he is not willing to exploit, coerce, or harm them. Kate approves of this attitude, which gives her hope that an increase in confidence will alleviate Marlow’s crippling shyness among members of his class as well as his boorish rudeness to those of lower class.
Kate tells Marlow that she comes from just as respected a family as Miss Hardcastle, and that the only difference between her and Kate is fortune. If she had money, she says, she would give it all to him. Her declaration affects Marlow. He says that he would choose her as a wife if this would not disappoint his family. Overcome by emotion, he leaves the room. Kate says to herself that she now sees Marlow’s good character and she will do everything in her power to keep him from departing. She exits.
Once again, Kate has slightly elevated the class status of the character she is playing. Now that Marlow is comfortable around her, she tells him that she is of nearly the same class status as he is, only less wealthy. Without realizing it, Marlow has had a personal breakthrough: he is talking to a woman of his class without crushing anxiety. However, like Kate, he wants to marry someone who will earn his family’s approval, so he rushes off before his emotions get the best of him and he proposes.
Tony and Constance enter. Tony says it’s a shame that Mrs. Hardcastle has gotten Constance’s jewels back, but at least she believes that they were mislaid by a servant and suspects nothing. He says that he has helped Hastings to prepare horses for the elopement. As Mrs. Hardcastle enters, he and Constance continue to pretend to be in love, flirting and touching one another, to keep her from suspecting anything. Mrs. Hardcastle is thrilled to see that Tony and Constance seem to be in love. She says that they will be married tomorrow.
Having come close to being able to elope with her jewels, Constance does not cancel the planned elopement now that her inheritance is back in Mrs. Hardcastle’s hands. She knows that her aunt will be much more vigilant about holding onto the jewels now and has decided to sacrifice her fortune to escape her aunt’s control and marry the man she loves.
Diggory enters with a message for Tony, but Tony tells Diggory to give it to Mrs. Hardcastle to read aloud. Constance recognizes Hastings’ handwriting on the note. She tries to distract Mrs. Hardcastle, telling her a funny story to keep her from reading the letter and discovering their plot. Meanwhile, Tony looks at the letter quizzically—the only part of it he can read is his own name. Mrs. Hardcastle sees Tony struggling and offers to read the letter out loud to him. Constance snatches the letter and, pretending to read from it, says that it is about cockfighting and is unimportant. Tony, very curious about the letter’s exact contents, gives it to his mother to read aloud.
Having been kept at home all his life because of fictitious illnesses, Tony is functionally illiterate and gives all his letters to his mother to read, adding to his mother’s ability to control him. Constance tries to keep Tony from revealing the plot to his mother, but she makes a mistake in her choice of topic. Although the cosmopolitan Constance finds cockfighting unimportant, the rustic Tony is a fan of this unsophisticated sport and will listen to any news about it with interest.
Mrs. Hardcastle reads the letter and is shocked and furious at its contents. In it, Hastings requests Tony’s help getting well-rested horses so that he and Constance can elope. He also refers to Mrs. Hardcastle as a hag. Yelling at both Tony and Constance, Mrs. Hardcastle says she will send Constance off to her Aunt Pedigree, who will keep a strict watch over her. She leaves to give orders to the servants to prepare a carriage to take Constance away.
Mrs. Hardcastle gets a cruel shock when she learns that her son, niece, and the young guest who flattered her were all trying to deceive her and ruin her plans for Tony and Constance’s marriage. Aunt Pedigree’s name is suggestive of her role: Mrs. Hardcastle thinks she can protect the family pedigree from a marriage that does not warrant family approval.
Left alone, Constance berates Tony for showing his mother the letter. Hastings enters and berates Tony as well. Marlow enters and begins to vent his anger at having been tricked and then allowed to keep embarrassing himself. He and the others continue to insult Tony, while Tony tries his best to defend himself against their anger. Finally Marlow says that Tony is too much beneath them to stay angry with. He continues that the person he is truly angry with is Hastings. Hastings says he is too disappointed by his failed elopement to even consider Marlow’s embarrassment. Constance says that they only kept Marlow in the dark because it was too late to keep him from embarrassing himself.
The three characters who represent the sophisticated, fashionable city have found their plans ruined by the unsophisticated, rustic Tony. They are angry at him for the embarrassment and disappointment he has caused them, but also at themselves and at one another. Tony did not mean to do any harm with his tricks and truly hoped to help Constance and Hastings escape, so he does not deserve the many insults they hurl at him.
A servant enters and tells Constance that Mrs. Hardcastle wants her to come to the carriage immediately. Marlow and Hastings continue to argue. Constance begs them to stop, and they do, Marlow apologizing for his bad temper. Hearing Mrs. Hardcastle yelling for her to come, Constance asks Hastings to stay faithful to her, even if they must wait three years to marry. Hastings is devastated. Marlow turns to Tony and rebukes him for causing all this strife. Tony, who has been lost in thought, yells that he has an idea. He tells Hastings to meet him in two hours in the garden outside and promises that he will make it up to him.
Recovering from their initial anger and seeing how upset their argument is making Constance, Marlow and Hastings make up. But they still have no idea how to improve upon the terrible separation Constance and Hastings now face. The bleak prospect of a three-year separation for two lovers who were on the cusp of a happy marriage is similar to those often faced by lovers in the sentimental novels and dramas of the time.