After Edith’s wedding, Margaret accompanies her father home on the train to Helstone from London. Fresh from goodbyes, Margaret’s heart feels surprisingly heavy as she heads home, “the place and the life she had longed for for years.” With an effort, she stops dwelling on the past and focuses on the future. As she does so, she notices how careworn her sleeping father looks, his face lined from “habitual distress and depression.”
Already, there are hints that Helstone won’t fulfill Margaret’s lofty expectations—even her memories of her father don’t align with present reality, as his haggard appearance suggests he’s been carrying unknown burdens.
Margaret assumes that her father’s sadness is due to her brother, Frederick. She wishes that Frederick had become a clergyman, “instead of going into the navy, and being lost to us all”—due to circumstances she has never fully understood. Margaret smiles at her father as he wakes up, ready to cheer him with talk of the future.
Though Margaret’s assumption later proves to be incorrect, Frederick’s mysterious backstory does play a significant role in the family. Also, Margaret already feels a responsibility to be an example of strength and cheer in order to support her father—a role that will soon become habitual for her.
It is late July when Margaret returns to Helstone, and she enjoys getting reacquainted with the beautiful surroundings. In fact, her forest walks “[realize] all Margaret’s anticipations,” and she takes pride in the place and its people. “Her out-of-doors life was perfect,” but she begins to perceive drawbacks within her family life.
Margaret savors the reconnection with her roots that her forest walks afford her, and some of her nostalgia, at least, appears to not be misplaced. However, there is also an undercurrent of discontentment, hinting at things to come.
Mrs. Hale, though kind to Margaret, seems discontented with her lot in Helstone, complaining that the bishop ought to have given Mr. Hale a better living by now and that Helstone is an unhealthy place. Margaret sees that her father shrinks from these remarks. She is unprepared for the air of disrupted peace at home, having forgotten the small details of home that were unpleasant.
The atmosphere at home is one of disharmony. Margaret is not only getting reacquainted with Helstone, but with her parents’ characters, discovering that all isn’t as she remembered—and that there is more going on than she’d realized.
One day in the fall, when Mrs. Hale complains that there are no cultivated neighbors nearby, Margaret says she is glad that they don’t visit the Gormans, a family who have made their fortune in trade. “I don’t like shoppy people,” she tells her mother; she only likes people “without pretense,” whose professions are intellectual, or oriented toward the land. When her mother mildly admonishes her for her fussiness, Margaret says, “I’m sure you don’t want me to admire butchers and bakers, and candlestick-makers, do you, mamma?”
Though this exchange is lighthearted, it shows that Margaret has been somewhat isolated within her social class; she only has respect for certain professions and their corresponding lifestyles. Her remarks about “shoppy people” are ironic in light of the people she will socialize with, and even come to admire, later in the story.
Margaret finds the evenings at Helstone hard to occupy, since Mr. Hale withdraws into his library, there aren’t many good books for her to read, and Mrs. Hale isn’t a very engaging companion. Margaret notices that her father has been even more preoccupied than usual and spends a lot of time watching for the postman. However, Margaret is easily distracted by the “glories of the forest” as the brilliant autumn unfolds.
Family life has its share of dissatisfaction and questions for Margaret, but she still has a youthful ability to distract herself. In her own way, she can satisfy herself with superficial things, even if they’re of a different sort from those “trifles” of cousin Edith’s.