“What unexpected good fortune?”
As Mr Hardcastle hurries off-stage in pursuit of Mr Marlow, who wants to inspect the sleeping arrangements, Hastings is left musing on the strange behaviour of his host, whom he still believes to be an innkeeper. Imagine his surprise and delight when he is joined on-stage by Miss Neville, known as Constance, the lady whom he had come from London to see and with whom he hopes to elope to France.
MISS NEVILLE: My dear Hastings! To what unexpected good fortune, to what accident am I to ascribe this happy meeting?
HASTINGS: Rather let me ask the same question, as I could never have hoped to meet my dearest Constance at an inn.
MISS NEVILLE: An inn! Sure you mistake! My aunt. my guardian, lives here. What could induce you to think this house an inn?
Hastings explains about the meeting with Tony Lumpkin and the deception that he perpetrated on the two visitors.
MISS NEVILLE: Certainly it must be one of my hopeful cousin’s tricks of whom you have heard me talk so often.
HASTINGS: He whom your aunt intends for you. He of whom I have such apprehensions.
Constance’s ‘fortune’ consists of a small chest of jewels that are in the care of her aunt, Mrs Hardcastle, until such time as she marries. Mrs Hardcastle is determined that Constance should marry her wastrel son, Tony, thereby keeping the jewels in the family. Tony has no interest in such a liaison and nor does Constance, but they keep up the pretence of a relationship in order to stay on the right side of Mrs Hardcastle, and, in Constance’s case. to conceal the elopement plan.
Hastings and Constance decide not to undeceive Marlow about the fact that they are, in fact, in Mr Hardcastle’s house , because “the strange reserve of his temper is such that, if abruptly informed of it, he would instantly quit the house before our plan was ripe for execution.”
They have to continue the pretence until fresh horses can be procured to take them to France.
When Marlow reappears, Hastings tells him of their great good fortune in that his intended bride, Miss Hardcastle, accompanied by her cousin, Miss Neville, has just arrived at the inn. “Miss Hardcastle has just stepped into the next room and will be back in an instant. Wasn’t it lucky, eh?”
All of a sudden, all of Marlow’s neuroses about talking to women of ‘quality’ come flooding back as he prepares to meet the woman who has been chosen to be his wife.
The scene is set for much merry mayhem at Marlow’s expense.