Margaret can’t help comparing Thornton’s proposal to that of Henry Lennox the year before. The biggest difference, she thinks, is that there had been genuine friendship between herself and Lennox; but her relationship with Thornton “had been one continued series of opposition.” She had thought, at first, that Thornton proposed out of compassion for her behavior during the riot the day before, so his evident regard for her is all the more shocking. Margaret feels that their whole conversation was a nightmare, and she wishes she had rejected him more sharply.
Margaret sees her relationship with Thornton as entirely antagonistic, so his proposal comes out of nowhere and distresses her even more than Henry’s did.
Margaret decides to visit Bessy. When she arrives, Bessy is clearly feeling much worse, so Margaret rearranges her pillows without a word. Margaret begins reading Bessy some comforting passages from the Bible, but Bessy is distracted by thoughts of the riot. She tells Margaret that Higgins is devastated about it. She explains that the strike committee had charged the union to refrain from violence, wanting the public to see that the strike was being led by thoughtful men who cared about law and order. Now, because of men like Boucher, the union’s work risks being undone. Boucher and her father had briefly come to blows the day before, then Boucher had disappeared.
The union has been trying to sway public opinion by conducting themselves decently, but the desperation of men like Boucher has foiled their attempts. The relationship between Higgins and Boucher symbolizes the tensions that stirred up the working class as they came to terms with the conditions imposed by rapidly expanding industry.
After reading to Bessy for a while, Margaret returns home and finds her mother singing the praises of the Thorntons’ water-bed. The conversation gradually turns to the subject of Frederick, and soon Mrs. Hale is weeping and appealing to Margaret to find a way to bring Frederick home for a visit before she dies. Margaret promises, and, since Mr. Hale has gone out, it falls to her to write and send a letter to Frederick.
Margaret once again must take a monumental step in her father’s absence, and her mother seems to recognize instinctively by now that this is Margaret’s role.
Mr. Hale overtakes Margaret as she is walking home from the post office. When Margaret tells him what she’s done, he explains the danger that Frederick will face by returning to England, that the Navy is unrelenting in its pursuit of those who’ve defied its commanding officers’ authority. He says that Margaret should have waited for him before acting, but then concedes that he “durst not have done it myself.”
Although he scolds her, Mr. Hale also implicitly recognizes that Margaret has greater courage and shows greater initiative than he does when it comes to big steps like this. Having defied authority so daringly the day before (though her family doesn’t know it), Margaret, in effect, does so again by daring to sneak Frederick into their home.