After Thornton returns from his countryside foray, his mind is clearer, and he immerses himself once again in the day’s business. However, he has to constantly fight to keep his mind from drifting back to Margaret. In the street he bumps into and chats with Dr. Donaldson, who informs him that Mrs. Hale doesn’t have many weeks to live. Thornton is shaken, and, though he has “no general benevolence,—no universal philanthropy,” he goes directly to Milton’s fruit-shop and buys a basket of the freshest fruits he can find. He insists on delivering the basket himself, though he draws attention as he passes through “the busiest part of the town for feminine shopping.”
Though Thornton isn’t given to philanthropic impulses in the abstract, he once again shows his capacity to care for individuals. Also, it’s striking that just as Margaret entered a male-dominated zone in order to resist the strikers, Thornton enters a predominantly feminine district in order to offer solace, albeit indirectly, to Margaret—suggesting that each of them must venture out of their traditional spheres in order to meet the other.
Thornton warmly presents the fruit basket to a delighted Mrs. Hale, but quickly leaves without acknowledging Margaret. As the Hales sample the fruit and praise Thornton’s kindness, Mr. Hale remembers the currant bushes in the old Helstone garden. On top of the events of the past two days, this casual memory breaks Margaret’s composure, and she retreats to her room to sob.
Mr. Hale’s subtle remembrance of Helstone, coming at such an emotionally charged moment, overwhelms Margaret. Helstone seems even more a respite from suffering compared to what Margaret has experienced in recent days in Milton.
Later, Dixon comes in and tells Margaret that Mary Higgins has come with the news that Bessy died that morning. Mary wants Margaret to come to the Higgins’s to see Bessy’s body laid out (“a notion, these common folks [have], of its being a respect to the departed,” says Dixon). Though she shrinks at first from the idea, Margaret agrees to go.
Dixon sees Mary’s wish as a marker of working-class identity. Thus it’s another occasion for Margaret to step across class boundaries, in a way she wouldn’t have done in Helstone, in the interests of personal friendship.