In the Thorntons’ drawing-room, Margaret sits alone for a while until Fanny comes in. Fanny explains that Thornton has imported workers from Ireland, and it has angered the Milton workers. The Irish workers are huddled fearfully inside the mill. When Mrs. Thornton comes in, no sooner can Margaret explain her request for the water-bed than they hear the angry voices of the crowd just outside the gate, and people begin to throw themselves against it.
The use of imported workers—what Miltons’ workers call “knobsticks,” or strikebreakers—often incited strike violence in industrial cities.
When Thornton comes in, he has a look of defiance on his face that makes him seem noble. Margaret has always dreaded finding herself a coward, but in this time of “reasonable fear and nearness of terror, she forgot herself, and felt only an intense sympathy—intense to painfulness—in the interests of the moment.”
When Mrs. Thornton talked about her experience with the earlier strike, Margaret worried that she wouldn’t show similar bravery; but now she rises to the occasion.
When the crowds knock the gate down, Fanny faints, and Mrs. Thornton carries her from the room. Margaret, however, won’t leave Thornton’s side. Out the window, Margaret sees Boucher fighting his way to the front of the crowd. “Who is Boucher?” asks Thornton in response to her cry of alarm. When he shows himself at the window, the crowd’s yell “was as the demoniac desire of some terrible wild beast.”
Though it’s not realistic to expect that Thornton would know all his workers by name, Thornton’s ignorance of Boucher is a good example of the lack of the masters’ care for the individual that Margaret has decried. Meanwhile, the noise of the strikers sounds inhuman even to Margaret.
Thornton reassures Margaret that the soldiers will arrive soon “to bring [the crowd] to reason…the only reason that does with men that make themselves into wild beasts.” As the men approach the mill door, Margaret pleads with Thornton: “Go down and face them like a man…Speak to your workmen as if they were human beings…If you have any courage or noble quality in you, go out and speak to them, man to man.”
Thornton argues that these “beasts” can’t be reasoned with, painting them in an inhuman light, but Margaret protests that the only way to deescalate the violence is by using reason and empathy. Thornton must speak with his workers “man to man,” not master to worker or refined man to “wild beast.”
Thornton’s face clouds over as he listens to her, and he agrees. Margaret bolts the door behind him as he goes, then resumes her lookout at the window. In the faces of the crowd, she sees the same desperation and rage she has seen in Boucher. Suddenly she notices boys in the back of the crowd preparing to throw their heavy wooden clogs at Thornton. She immediately rushes outside, “standing between them and their enemy”; the crowd looks on in surprise and confusion.
Margaret warns the crowd that the soldiers are on their way and begs them to go away peaceably. A man asks if the Irish workers will be sent packing. When Thornton says, “Never, for your bidding,” the crowd lets loose in angry hooting. Margaret sees the boys with the shoes once again and throws her arms protectively around Thornton.
Though he faces the crowd, Thornton’s defiance doesn’t help defuse the situation. Meanwhile, Margaret instinctively protects Thornton from the threat of deadly violence.
A thrown clog misses them, but then a sharp pebble grazes Margaret’s face, and she passes out. The sight of blood startles the crowd out of its passion, and they begin to retreat, but not before a man shouts, “Th’ stone were meant for thee [Thornton]; but thou wert sheltered behind a woman!”
The sight of an injured woman seems to shame the crowd and deflate their desire for vengeance. Though a man mocks Thornton for being protected by a woman—and Margaret was naïve in thinking her feminine status would protect her—Margaret has achieved her goal of defusing the riot.
As the crowd vanishes, Margaret briefly comes to, but swoons again. Thornton carries her into the house. He confesses his love to the insensible Margaret: “No one can tell you what you are to me…you are the only woman I ever loved!” Mrs. Thornton comes in to tend to Margaret, not having heard her son’s declaration, and Thornton tears himself away to tend to the frightened Irish workers.
The risk to Margaret’s life—itself implicating that Margaret cares deeply for Thornton, romantically or otherwise—moves Thornton to fully recognize his feelings and to confess his love to her.
While Mrs. Thornton goes for a doctor, one of the serving-maids bathes Margaret’s forehead and tells Fanny, who has crept out of hiding, about the confrontation outside. Fanny is shocked that Margaret would have been “so bold and forward” as to have put her arms around Thornton’s neck. Margaret is conscious enough to hear this exchange, though too weak to respond.
Margaret’s embrace of Thornton is interpreted much differently by onlookers than she had intended it. Fanny, who is spoiled and foolish, thinks only of the gossipy implications of Margaret saving Thornton’s life.
By the time the doctor comes, Margaret has fully returned to her senses, but is still faint. Nevertheless, she is anxious to return home without giving her parents a chance to worry. After the doctor finishes treating her cut, she persuades them to order her a cab home.
Margaret is still more focused on caring for her parents than on worrying about her own sufferings, in keeping with the caretaking role she has assumed since their move to Milton.