In Joseph’s library, “Mr. Stanley” has arrived to visit Joseph, and Joseph complains to himself that he is in no mood to listen to other people’s problems after being caught with Lady Teazle by Sir Peter. He feels sure that he now has no chance of marrying Maria. As Sir Oliver and Rowley enter, Joseph leaves the room. Sir Oliver is offended that it seems as if Joseph is avoiding them. Rowley says that he knows Joseph talks about being charitable, but he has never seen him act charitably. Rowley leaves so that Sir Oliver can pretend to be Mr. Stanley uninterrupted, but says that after he sees “Mr. Stanley” leave, he will return immediately to announce to Joseph that Sir Oliver has come back from the Indies, and then will meet Sir Oliver at Sir Peter’s after that.
Sir Oliver plans to assume the disguise of a poor relative in need of charity to determine for himself whether Joseph’s good reputation is warranted. Joseph is upset after being caught with Lady Teazle, and he slips out of the room to try to compose himself, conceal his true feelings of bitterness and disappointment, and get into the mood to play his usual feigned role as a moral man. Recognizing that Joseph pretends not to have seen him and avoids him, Sir Oliver sees the first hint that Joseph does not act in a straightforward or honest manner.
Joseph enters and makes exaggeratedly polite excuses for keeping Mr. Stanley waiting. Mr. Stanley says he has decided to come to ask Joseph and Charles for money because he fears that his poverty may discredit the family’s reputation for wealth. Joseph denies that he is wealthy. Mr. Stanley says that he is sure that if Sir Oliver were here, he would help him. Joseph tells Mr. Stanley that contrary to public opinion, his uncle has given him almost nothing, so he cannot help him. Under his breath, Sir Oliver angrily remarks at this ingratitude.
Joseph pretends to want to help his poor relative out of deep feelings of generosity, but to be unable to give him anything because he has nothing to give. Sir Oliver not only sees through this lie, he sees it as a discredit to the Surface family name and an act of ingratitude for all that he has given Joseph in the past. Joseph is neither generous nor concerned with the family reputation.
Joseph goes on to say how much money he has given to help his brother with his debts. Sir Oliver does not believe this. “Mr. Stanley” says that he sees that Joseph cannot help him, and they say goodbye to one another with elaborate shows of politeness. Sir Oliver whispers to himself that Charles will be his heir, and leaves. Joseph says to himself that a reputation for charity has the unfortunate effect of drawing those who need charity, but he uses sentimental speeches instead of real money in these situations.
Having just proved how little he truly cares for his family’s reputation by denying his uncle’s generosity to him, Joseph now pretends that he is only unable to help Mr. Stanley because he has been so personally generous to his wasteful, extravagant brother. This lie only further hurts the Surface family reputation by referring to Charles’s debts.
Rowley then enters and gives Joseph a note saying that Sir Oliver has arrived in London. Joseph asks his servant to stop Mr. Stanley if he has not yet gone, but Rowley says that Mr. Stanley is out of reach. Rowley tells Joseph that he will bring Sir Oliver and Charles to his house in fifteen minutes, and then departs. Joseph curses his bad luck that Sir Oliver should arrive at this moment.
Joseph fears that “Mr. Stanley” will reveal to Sir Oliver Joseph’s claim that it was a mere rumor that his uncle had sent him great sums of money. Realizing his reputation with his rich uncle might be at stake, he now wants to give Stanley as much money as he needs.