Acres’s servant David is trying to discourage his master from sending the letter challenging Beverley to a duel, fearing that Acres will be killed. Acres says he must be careful not to risk his honor, to which David replies that Acres’s honor should not “risk the loss of him.” Acres counters that his honor would follow him to the grave if he died and that he cannot disgrace his ancestors. David replies that the best way not to disgrace ancestors is not to die prematurely.
Unlike his master, who has embarked on a project of self-improvement, David does not seek to become anything other than a simple boy from the country. Acres understands the importance of honor to being a gentleman, but he cannot lose his honor by failing to fight, since he has no grounds to send the challenge in the first place. David, meanwhile, who does not pretend to be a gentleman, sees it as senseless to lose one’s life for a principle like honor.
Acres begins to get nervous about the duel and asks David if he really thinks he might die. David says he thinks it ten to one that Acres will be killed. Acres tries to keep his courage up, but he is becoming very scared. As if giving himself a pep talk, he says that he has the challenge ready and he will give it to his friend Captain Absolute to deliver to Beverley. David is glad for this, because he wouldn’t want to be the one to deliver the letter. David then goes on to imagine the sad scene on Acres’s estate when his dog and horse learn that he has been killed. Captain Absolute is announced and David leaves the room, whimpering worried prayers for Acres’s safety.
A new element of dueling begins to occur to the inexperienced Acres: the possibility of being killed. Although he knew all along that death was a possible outcome, he had been too focused on showing himself to be a true gentleman in all things, and dueling to prove it if necessary, to fully grasp this possibility. A true gentleman approaches a duel with courage, which Acres knows he does not have, but is still determinedly trying to fake.
Absolute asks why he has been sent for, and Acres shows him the challenge. Absolute reads the letter, then asks if Acres really intends to fight Beverley. Acres replies that Sir Lucius has convinced him to. When Absolute wonders what he, Absolute, has to do with this duel between Acres and Beverley, Acres asks him to deliver the message to Beverley, since Absolute and Beverley are acquainted. Absolute promises Beverley will get the note. Acres says he wishes to fight that night so that he will still be worked up from his talk with Sir Lucius. Acres then asks Absolute to be his second in the duel. When Absolute demurs, Acres says that Sir Lucius will be his second.
Again Absolute allows Acres to believe that he is not his rival, and finds listening to Acres talk about the coming duel with his alter ego an entertaining spectacle. At the same time, Acres continues to show that he does not know how to conduct himself properly in a matter of honor like a duel. First, he again says he wishes to rush to fight so that his passion will not be wasted, whereas a true gentleman approaches the matter with calm and dignity.
A servant enters and tells Absolute his father is downstairs looking for him. As Absolute gets ready to take his leave, Acres adds an extra request: that, while delivering the letter, Absolute intimidate Beverley and tell him what a ferocious and deadly fighter Acres is. Acres says he hopes to intimidate Beverley, and then Beverley may be too frightened to come to the duel, which Acres says would clear his honor. Absolute promises over and over to do so.
As a further sign of his lack of true gentlemanly honor, Acres asks Absolute to try to intimidate his opponent when he delivers the message. He then says he hopes that Beverley will not attend, so that Acres will not be forced to kill him, although it is clear that he is actually worried that he will be killed in the battle, a clear sign that he lacks the requisite courage.