Night has fallen, and the group is returning after having gone separate ways for the afternoon. First, Mrs. Warren and Frank arrive at the cottage. Mrs. Warren complains about the country, since she despises walking and doesn't enjoy sitting inside, either.
Frank begins to flirt with her, and she returns his attention. He suggests that his father, too, used to have a romantic relationship with Mrs. Warren. She kisses him briefly before thinking better of herself and backing away, saying he should go after Vivie instead. Frank's response that he has, in fact, already made love to her daughter, surprises and alarms her.
The Reverend Samuel Gardner and Crofts arrive, and the group begins to discuss where Crofts and Praed will spend the night. After the Reverend confirms Praed's respectable social standing as an architect, he agrees that the two men will sleep at his house.
The group then talks of Vivie's marriage prospects, with Frank hinting that he plans to marry her himself. His father objects, and although she resents that objection, Mrs. Warren agrees with him that it's not a good idea. Neither of them believes Frank has enough money to support Vivie in marriage, and Crofts joins in scolding Frank. Frank, however, will not be silenced on the matter.
Vive and Praed return and Mrs. Warren acts annoyed that her daughter has stayed out so late. Vivie, ignoring her mother, starts planning for dinner. Since there aren't enough plates, Vivie and Frank remain while the rest go in the kitchen to eat. Frank attempts to flirt with Vivie in a way they're both comfortable with, as if they are little children, but Vivie is not in the mood.
When it is their turn to eat, Vivie and Frank go into the kitchen and are replaced in the main room by Mrs. Warren and Crofts. Crofts proposes to Mrs. Warren that he marry Vivie, assuring her that he has enough money to keep both her and her daughter satisfied after his death. Mrs. Warren is annoyed at the suggestion and tells him it is ridiculous, causing him to storm off.
The others return from eating in the kitchen and the Reverend Samuel Gardner suggests that they return home. His wife, Mrs. Gardner, does not know they will have guests. Praed agrees because he wishes to give Mrs. Warren some alone time with her daughter. In leaving, Frank tries to kiss Vivie, but she again shuts him down.
The relationship between mother and daughter is strained right from the beginning of this act, though Vivie is absent at first. In kissing Frank, Mrs. Warren complicates the dynamic between herself, her daughter, and her daughter’s friend (and possibly lover). Although Mrs. Warren shows indignation at the idea that Frank might have had sex with Vivie, Frank's comment that she is more attractive than her daughter goes over well. Rather than defending her daughter, Mrs. Warren is flattered and accepts the reassurance of her own appearance.
This reaction is important in what it reveals about the objectification of women at this time. Frank's point to Mrs. Warren is that Vivie "don't need looking after half so much as her mother" (50) because she is not as attractive. At this time, it was conventional for women to depend on men either as husbands or, in Mrs. Warren's case, as sexual clients. Because Vivie does not have beauty to use as currency, she must look after herself.
The theme of love as a commodity arises in the discussion of Vivie's marriage possibilities. First, the conversation occurs in her absence, since according to convention, her own desires hold little weight in the negotiation. Frank points out that Mrs. Warren, Crofts, and his father are being too "mercenary" about marriage, but Mrs. Warren retorts that, "Your love's a pretty cheap commodity, my lad" (53). This demonstrates that marriage as a commercial interaction can hurt men's hopes as well as women's, as their emotions don't necessarily come into play.
Crofts further demonstrates his belief that marriage should be a commercial exchange by suggesting to Mrs. Warren that he will marry Vivie. His reasoning is that he is wealthy enough, so she shouldn't object. Although in the previous conversation among the larger group, Mrs. Warren seemed to agree with his perception of marriage, now she is impatient with his conventional approach. Her reaction puts the importance of maternal protection over marriage negotiation.
Mrs. Warren's objection also reminds the audience of one of the play's main secrets: the identity of Vivie's father. In keeping this secret from the other characters, Mrs. Warren wields a certain amount of power. She recognizes the importance of maintaining a semblance of power as a woman; when Crofts asks her why she keeps the secret, she answers him vaguely and simply: "Because I choose" (58). In a world where so few choices are left to women, this answer carries weight.