Vivie returns with the chairs and allows Crofts to assist her with them. She disappears back into the cottage to make tea, and the others make themselves comfortable in the chairs. Praed comments that they all ought to stop thinking of her and speaking to her as if she is a child, since she has accomplished so much at such a young age. Mrs. Warren refuses to change her attitude toward her daughter.
Vivie calls Mrs. Warren inside, and Crofts and Praed remain outside. They discuss the mystery of Vivie's father's identity, with each one assuring the other that it is not he. Crofts reveals that he feels attracted to Vivie, but that Mrs. Warren would not be likely to allow him to marry him. Praed agrees with Mrs. Warren, since Crofts is so much older than Vivie.
Mrs. Warren calls the men inside for tea. As Praed is following Crofts in, Frank Gardner, who is approaching the cottage, surprises him. They know each other. Frank explains that he is in the area staying with his father, who is the rector at the church, and that he and Vivie are good friends. Praed tells Frank that he's an old friend of Mrs. Warren and invites the young man in for tea.
Before they go in, Frank stops Praed. Praed imagines that Frank will tell him about some crush he has, like a barmaid at Redhill he used to love. Instead, Frank speaks very highly of Vivie and Praed concurs. Frank tells him in confidence that Vivie loves him.
As they are about to enter the cottage, the Reverend Samuel Gardner, Frank's father, calls to them from the gate. Frank invites him in and they discuss the pros and cons of marrying Vivie: although she is brilliant and accomplished, the Reverend Samuel Gardner believes she is not wealthy enough to support Frank, since he has no income and has been living off his father's financial support.
Frank reminds his father that he used to live a carefree life as well, and made many mistakes. He speaks disrespectfully to his father, reminding the elderly man that in fact, he once wrote incriminating love letters to a woman, who is still lording them over him as potential blackmail.
Crofts, Vivie, and Mrs. Warren emerge from the cottage, and it becomes clear that the Reverend Samuel Gardner and Mrs. Warren recognize each other. The Reverend Samuel Gardner identifies her as Miss Vavasour, but she corrects him that her name is Mrs. Warren. She is the woman to whom he wrote those letters years ago.
The relationship between mother and daughter is further developed here, in Vivie's brief absence from the rest of the group. When Praed suggests that he, Crofts, and Mrs. Warren treat Vivie with more respect than they have been, as an equal adult, Mrs. Warren laughs at the idea. Unfortunately, it will become clear by the end of the play that she should have heeded his advice to treat her daughter with respect. Since she does not, Vivie comes to resent her.
One of the secrets among the group is the identity of Vivie's father. It seems that only Mrs. Warren knows who he is. In their private conversation, Praed asserts that it doesn't matter who Vivie's father is, but Crofts points out that if he is her father, his romantic feelings toward her are awkward and inappropriate. Each man tries to manipulate the other, not knowing what the other knows. This type of interaction is common throughout the play.
The way that Praed speaks about Mrs. Warren's profession to Crofts reveals his disdain for it and his belief that he provides a sort of escape for her. He imagines himself able to decide what effect her beauty must have on her well-being, since he states that, "The effect of her own beauty would become a torment to her if she could not escape from it occasionally" (42). Of course, the irony is that she cannot escape from her beauty, nor can any woman "escape" from the way she looks and presents herself in the world. Praed's male privilege keeps him from recognizing or understanding this.
The idea of marriage as an economic transaction emerges in the second half of the first act, in a conversation between Frank Gardner and his father. Frank is not independent and does not financially support himself, so he is looking for a wife who is not only smart but also has money. The Reverend Samuel Gardner points out that what matters more in a marriage is each party's social position.
At the end of this act, it becomes clear that Mrs. Warren has made a false name for herself in order to imply that she is married and leading a "conventional" life. The Reverend Samuel Gardner recognizes her from long ago, when she went by Miss Vavasour. The fact that she still has all his incriminating letters demonstrates her commitment to using any means possible to maintain some semblance of power in her life. As the Reverend Samuel Gardner remembers, when he offered to buy them back from her, she told him, "Knowledge is power...and I never sell power" (46).