Mary is now back home with her family, waiting to begin another job. She is sewing a handkerchief for Rosamond on the occasion of her wedding. She tells Mrs. Garth that she has decided to go and teach at a school in York, though she doesn’t like being inside classrooms. As her siblings tease her Mary tries to laugh, but cannot fight back her tears. Mr. Garth reads a letter from Mr. Brooke, asking him to come back and manage both Freshitt and Tipton. Everyone at the table is delighted; Mr. Garth tells Mary not to go to the school after all, as the family will have enough money now.
Fred’s debt, along with Featherstone’s death, has left the Garth family in a dire financial situation. Mary has a strong sense of duty and thus tries to avoid feeling sorry for herself, but struggles to hide her sorrow. However, this all changes when Caleb gets the letter from Brooke. This turnaround shows how the lives of poor people can be instantly transformed according to the whims of the rich.
That evening, Mr. Farebrother comes to the Garths’ house, announcing that he is there to deliver a message from Fred Vincy, who has just returned to Middlemarch after a few months away. Fred will soon go away again to study, but is too ashamed and upset by his unpaid debt that he cannot bear to say goodbye to the Garths himself. Mr. Garth announces that Fred’s debt has already been forgotten, and that the family is about to become rich thanks to his new job. Mrs. Garth corrects him, noting that they will hardly be rich, just secure.
Again, while Fred is clearly genuinely ashamed and regretful about his behavior, he has not matured enough to realize the importance of coming to speak to the Garths himself. He still remains focused on his own feelings, and in doing so does not take responsibility for his actions. In return the Garths treat him with kindness that he arguably doesn’t deserve.
Farebrother congratulates Mr. Garth. They discuss Fred and whether he should indeed enter the clergy, or whether, as Mary suggests, this would degrade the whole profession. Mr. Garth says he feels that Fred probably wouldn’t make a good clergyman, but also that they should feel sympathy for Fred after Featherstone implied he was going to leave him land, only to snatch it away at the last moment. Even Mrs. Garth says she will forgive Fred if he proves himself worthy. Mary leaves the room.
Again, the Garths show themselves to be models of kindness, sympathy, and generosity. Although Fred is perhaps undeserving of their forgiveness, perhaps the second chance he receives from them will motivate him to turn his life around and become a responsible person.
With Mary gone, Mr. Garth tells the story of how Featherstone asked her to burn one of the wills right before he died. Mrs. Garth says there was nothing Mary could have done differently, but that Mary still feels guilty, blaming herself for Fred’s misfortune. They swear Farebrother to secrecy; he says goodbye and leaves. On his way out, Farebrother sees Mary outside with her younger sister Letty. Mary calls Fred “worse than ridiculous,” and then says she is happy that she will not have to go away to work.
This passage reveals a twist: despite everything she and her family have done for Fred, Mary feels guilty because in not burning the will as Featherstone requested, she feels that she is responsible for the loss of Fred’s fortune. This shows that Mary is perhaps too sympathetic and kind-hearted.
Farebrother leaves and walks to Lowick, speculating that Fred and Mary have feelings for each other. Meanwhile, Mr. Garth tells his wife that he is considering asking Fred to work under him as a kind of assistant. Mrs. Garth points out that Mr. Vincy and Mrs. Vincy would be far too proud to let that happen, and besides, Fred is now going back to college. Mr. Garth agrees that they should wait for a bit. The couple then discusses the possibility that Rigg is selling some of the land he just inherited to Bulstrode.
Training under Mr. Garth, who is an honest, skilled, and hard-working man who truly cares about Fred, would surely be a positive step in Fred’s career. However, the issue of rank means that he and his parents might not even consider it. This shows how high social status can actually inhibit people from realizing their potential.