Meanwhile, the robber of Bounderby's bank has not been found. Due to Mrs. Sparsit's and Bitzer's testimony, Stephen is the main suspect and his picture is put up on "WANTED" signs all over town. Slackbridge uses these wanted posters to reassure the members of the union that they were right to shun Stephen. The mysterious old woman, Mrs. Pegler, who was seen walking with him and Rachael and who was sighted hanging around Bounderby's house and factory is also suspected.
That Bounderby continues to believe Stephen as the primary suspect in the robbery is unsurprising. But Slackbridge's use of Stephen's "guilt" to shore up his own power shows that the union leaders don't care about the men they are supposed to be protecting either. Both sides of the conflict use the workers, the "hands", to gain and maintain power. But they don't actually care about any of the individual people they employ or who are their members. Such is the injustice that the industrial system can bring about.
Louisa is at Stone Lodge with Sissy when Mr. Bounderby, Tom, and Rachael call on them. This is no courtesy call: Rachael has been trying to prove Stephen's innocence to Mr. Bounderby, but Tom refuses to acknowledge that he was with Louisa, Stephen, and Rachael in Stephen's rooms that night. Louisa puts things to right by confirming that she and Tom were there that night, and that she doesn't think Stephen likely to have committed the robbery. Rachael, very upset by the false charges brought against Stephen, then says that she has written to him, and that since he is the most honest person she knows he will certainly return in two days to clear his name.
The novel now turns its focus back to Stephen. For the first time, Louisa reveals something that might get Tom in trouble. She doesn't do it out of malice, but because she sees it as important to be honest. The reader continues to see how Tom's education of facts has turned him into a bad man.
Mr. Bounderby is skeptical of all of their claims, and angrily storms off, with Tom following after him. Gradgrind expresses sadness that an innocent man would be falsely charged with a crime, which causes Louisa and Sissy to share a glance: each of them believes Tom is actually the robber. Stephen, however, doesn't show up within two days.
Bounderby can't stand anything that does not correspond to how he sees things. The facts he cares about are only his facts, which support his ideas. That neither Sissy nor Louisa speaks up can be seen as a failure to defend Stephen, but can also be seen as compassion for Tom. Stephen's failure to arrive becomes the focus of much of the rest of the novel.