Dabby and Mary sit together trying to learn their lines. Despite Mary’s effort to get Dabby to concentrate, though, she can’t convince her friend to stop fantasizing about someday returning to England. As Dabby waxes poetic about the rain in England, she compares its softness to Ralph’s “dimpled cheeks,” using this as a way to transition into talking about how Mary should seduce Ralph. “He’s ripe for the plucking,” she says, but Mary says she won’t listen to her anymore. After all, she listened to Dabby’s advice on the convict ship, when Dabby told her to have sex with a sailor in exchange for larger portions of food. Although this technically benefited her, Mary regrets it, saying that she’ll “never wash the sin away.” However, Dabby tells her that “if God didn’t want women to be whores he shouldn’t have created men who pay for their bodies.”
When Dabby and Mary talk about Mary’s sexual relationship with a sailor on the convict ship, the audience sees how common it is in the world of the penal colony to treat sex as nothing more than a transaction. This, Dabby implies, is a natural way of approaching sexuality, since she believes that even God would approve of a woman who uses sex to get something she needs. However, Mary clearly dislikes the nature of such relationships, which leave her feeling nothing but regret.
Mary accuses Dabby of exploiting her on the convict ship, since she encouraged her to sleep with the sailor so that she (Dabby) and her husband could share the extra portions of food. But Dabby points out that Mary wasn’t a virgin anyway, reaching out and lifting up Mary’s skirt. “A. H. I love thee to the heart,” Dabby reads, making fun. “That was different. That was love,” Mary replies. The two convicts decide to focus on their lines again, and before long, Liz Morden joins them. Though Dabby bristles at her presence, Mary eventually helps her with her lines, too. When Liz asks Mary to tell her each line so that she can repeat it, Dabby realizes she can’t read. As soon as she asks if this is true, though, Liz jumps at her, and they begin to fight.
Again, Wertenbaker makes it clear that Mary regrets having slept with the sailor. In contrast to her relationship with “A. H.,” this affair had nothing to do with love; she was only engaging in sex as a practical transaction, one that helped her and Dabby survive the long voyage. Such relationships are apparently tacitly accepted by the guards, judging by the fact that Harry Brewer openly lives with Duckling. This means that sleeping with a guard for food is considered fine, but stealing from the food stores is an act punishable by death, so the prisoners have an incentive to have sex with the guards.
As Liz and Dabby fight, Ketch Freeman enters and asks why they’re “at each other’s throats.” The two women stop fighting immediately and glare at him. “I wouldn’t talk of throats if I was you, Mr Hangman Ketch Freeman,” Liz spits, and Dabby and Mary join her in calling him names. Defending himself, Ketch says he was only curious about what they were doing, but Liz tells him not to “bother the actresses.” This catches his attention, since he hasn’t heard about the play. However, the women continue to berate him, as Liz suggests that she’d kill herself before ever hanging one of her fellow convicts.
Liz, Dabby, and Mary resent Ketch because he is the penal colony’s hangman. Audience members may recall from the play’s third scene that Ketch (also known as James) was one of the three people—along with Handy Baker and Thomas Barrett—to be caught stealing from the stores. However, it seems that Harry Brewer must have asked him to be the hangman for the other two convicts, since he is still alive while his fellow thieves are dead. As such, the other convicts see him as disloyal, ostracizing him for aligning with the guards.