As her illness advances, Mrs. Hale begins to confide in Margaret more and more. One evening, she begins talking about Frederick—the taboo subject Margaret has yearned to hear more about. Mrs. Hale often dreams of Frederick being in a terrible storm at sea. Margaret asks to be told more about what happened to Frederick, since she was too young to be told at the time. Mrs. Hale sends Margaret for a packet of letters she has saved in a cabinet.
Margaret starts to occupy the role of confidant to her mother as she has already done for her father; she is established as the emotional bedrock of the household. The fact that she’s being told Frederick’s story further shows how Margaret has matured in her mother’s eyes.
Margaret brings the “yellow, sea-stained letters.” As Mrs. Hale looks through them, Mrs. Hale tells Margaret what Frederick experienced at sea. Frederick, she explains, had been under the charge of a tyrannical Captain Reid. Reid had ordered some sailors to race down the rigging, threatening the loser with a vicious flogging. The lagging sailor, dreading this fate, flung himself toward the deck and was fatally injured by the fall. Some time afterward, a mutiny took place on board the ship, with Captain Reid being set adrift. The Hales learned from the newspapers that Frederick had not only been implicated in the mutiny, but had been charged as “a traitor of the blackest dye” for his involvement. When they came to understand the situation, however, they were proud of their son’s stand against injustice.
Frederick’s subplot shows that taking stands against injustice is something that runs in the Hales’ family—a value he seems to have picked up from his parents—and is another example of the importance of following one’s conscience, even when the circumstances are catastrophic.
Margaret agrees with Mrs. Hale’s assessment of Frederick’s actions. “Loyalty and obedience to wisdom and justice are fine,” she says firmly, “but it is still finer to defy arbitrary power, unjustly and cruelly used—not on behalf of ourselves, but on behalf of others more helpless.”
Mrs. Hale longs to see Frederick again, but knows that some of his shipmates have been apprehended and hanged, the court claiming that the sailors had been led astray by their superior officers. She is inconsolable with the knowledge that if he risked a journey to England, Frederick would be hanged as well.
The risk to Frederick for his act of conscience is even graver than the risk his father took in abandoning his living in Helstone, and places an even greater strain on his family.