In another room of Charles Surface’s house, a group of young men are laughing and drinking. Charles drinks and urges others to do so, saying he never loses at cards when he drinks, or, rather, never cares that he is losing. He says drinking is how one knows if one loves a woman: a man can drink twelve glasses of wine, each one to toast a different woman, and whomever he thinks of once he is drunk is the woman he loves. Charles’s friend Careless asks him who he really loves, and Charles answers “Maria,” but refuses to give her surname. The group of men sings a song celebrating women in all their diversity.
Although he is one of the play’s central characters, Charles has only been discussed by other characters up to this point. In his first appearance on the stage, he carouses with other young men, as he is reputed to do. He talks lightheartedly about losing money and a variety of women. But in the end, he says that he loves only one woman and, in a show of respect to her, refuses to identify her specifically to his drinking buddies.
Trip enters and Charles says he must excuse himself to talk to a Jew and a broker who have come to see him. The others urge him to have the visitors come in. Careless says that perhaps if the moneylenders drink wine they will become more moral, but Charles warns that wine will only bring out their natural bad qualities. Trip escorts Moses and Sir Oliver (who is pretending to be Mr. Premium) in. Careless and the other men in the party try to force the moneylenders to drink large quantities of wine, but Charles tells his friends that they should not mistreat these strangers. The gentlemen leave Charles with the moneylenders to play dice in the next room.
Charles’s friends want to have fun at the expense of the moneylenders by getting them drunk and bullying them. They see Jewish moneylenders, who make money in a way their society considers dishonorable, as an easy target for mockery—but Charles stops them. This may reflect his general good-naturedness and sense that all strangers deserve respectful treatment when they are guests in one’s home, or the fact that Charles needs money and cannot afford to get a reputation for abusing those who lend to him.
Moses begins to make an elaborate introduction between “Mr. Premium” and Charles, but Charles cuts him off. He quickly summarizes the situation: he is an extravagant young man who is willing to pay fifty percent interest if he can borrow money, and Mr. Premium is a man with money to lend, who will try to get double his money interest. Mr. Premium says that he can see Charles is “not a man of many compliments” and Charles agrees. Mr. Premium says he likes him the better for it.
Sir Oliver values how Charles states the situation frankly without trying to sugarcoat it or manipulate the moneylender to get better terms. Oliver sees this as a sign of honesty that befits the family name. It also leads him to believe that Charles’s true character is not concealed, but rather openly displayed.
“Mr. Premium” asks Charles what possessions he has that he can offer as collateral. He learns that Charles has already sold all his land and livestock. Charles asks Mr. Premium if knows of his wealthy uncle, explaining that he expects to inherit everything from Sir Oliver. Charles says if Mr. Premium gives him a loan, he can collect his money when Sir Oliver dies and leaves Charles his fortune. Charles adds that he would, however, be sad to hear that anything had happened to his generous uncle.
Sir Oliver is getting a very good sense of Charles’s character. Charles is an open book. He has received huge sums of money from Sir Oliver and is trying to raise even more money by referencing his uncle’s likely plan to leave him his fortune. It remains to be seen whether Sir Oliver will see Charles’s straightforward attitude as presumptuous or as justified pride in his family ties.
Mr. Premium says that these are not good terms. Charles asks Mr. Premium if he worries that Sir Oliver will live too long, and assures him his uncle is a sick man. Mr. Premium breaks into nervous laughter at this. He asks about other heirlooms Charles might be able to sell—silver plates, a valuable library. Charles says all of this is long gone, and then offers to sell his family portraits. Horrified by this proposition, Sir Oliver almost forgets to pretend to be Mr. Premium. Charles summons Careless to help auction off the many portraits of his ancestors. Charles notices that Mr. Premium seems upset, and asks affectionately if he is all right. Sir Oliver regains his composure and laughs, assuring Charles that he thinks it is hilarious “to sell one’s family by auction.”
Sir Oliver struggles to conceal his true feelings and continue to stick to the role he has assumed as Mr. Premium. He is uncomfortable at Charles’s suggestion that he will not live for much longer and finds it difficult to pretend that he wants his own death to come speedily, even though this would be to the benefit of Mr. Premium. He finds Charles’s offer to sell him the family portraits more upsetting still. Charles further shows his good character, however, by noticing Mr. Premium’s discomfort and asking if he is all right.