Unfortunately, only a couple of days after this transaction Diamond has a violent kicking fit and lames himself. Fred is despondent. He decides to confess everything to Mary, and worries that this means he should probably confess to Mrs. Garth, too. Mrs. Garth tends to be judgmental of other women, and “disproportionately indulgent towards the failings of men.” Fred finds her in the kitchen, giving a lesson to two of her children, Letty and Ben. Fred asks if these are her only pupils now, and Mrs. Garth explains that she is “at a low ebb with pupils” and as a result her income is small.
Immediately, Fred is doubly punished for his decision to try and get out of debt by selling the horse. Not only does the horse instantly become valueless, but Fred also faces the reality that his inability to pay the debt may put the Garths in serious financial hardship. This is a consideration that has evidently not crossed Fred’s mind yet, because he is so insulated and naïve thanks to his family’s wealth.
Fred feels worried and guilty. At that moment Mr. Garth arrives, and Fred immediately confesses that he only has £50 toward his debt of £160. Mr. Garth looks embarrassed, and tries to casually inform his wife that he co-signed Fred’s debt. Mr. Garth says that this is all happening at an unfortunate moment, as Christmas is coming and the family is already struggling financially. He becomes more panicked as he wonders how they will possibly cobble together £110. Mrs. Garth says that she will give the £92 she had saved to pay for their son, Alfred, to be trained as an apprentice. She adds that Mary surely has £20 saved.
This heart-wrenching scene highlights the severity of Fred’s recklessness and the negative impact it is going to have on the Garth family. To Fred, the debt is simply a bit of fun gone wrong. However, he was inadvertently betting with the Garths’ savings and their son Alfred’s future. Of course, this is not entirely Fred’s fault—Caleb is also to blame for lending money that his family desperately needed.
For the first time Fred feels genuine sorrow. He had only been worried about the Garths thinking badly of him, and had not even considered that his actions might put them in a position of financial difficulty. Fred promises to eventually pay them back, but Mrs. Garth snaps that this won’t help Alfred now. Mr. Garth also apologizes, saying he was wrong to co-sign the debt. Desperately upset and embarrassed, Fred leaves.
Although this episode hardly paints Fred in a sympathetic light, it is at least true that he quickly sees how wrongly he has behaved and feels genuine sorrow. This suggests that he is not a terrible person and can be reformed. He just needs to grow up and learn how to behave responsibly.
Mr. Garth apologizes to his wife again, but she responds kindly, saying it was silly of him not to tell her about it. Mrs. Garth says he needs to stop being so generous, and that he must go and ask Mary how much money she has saved. Mr. Garth is annoyed that this episode is interrupting “business,” which he views as basically sacred. His use of “business” refers to industrial construction and labor. Although he has immense practical skill and knowledge, Mr. Garth is terrible with finances. He is very popular because he works hard and often doesn’t even charge people for his labor. His family is poor, but they don’t mind.
This is a key passage when it comes to the book’s exploration of greed and money. On one hand, it is clear that Caleb was foolish to lend Fred the money and that even those who aren’t greedy shouldn’t be careless about money. Unfortunately, money is too important for that—it demands to be taken seriously. However, the passage also shows that it is possible (and indeed better) not to care about money, and that fulfillment can be found in other ways, such as through marriage and family.