Meanwhile, Mr. Hale and Thornton have a quiet and consoling chat that knits them more firmly together in friendship—Thornton, “man of action as he was…there was a deeper religion binding him to God in his heart, in spite of his strong willfulness.”
Here, Gaskell portrays Thornton as having an interior piety that most people don’t see.
Margaret slowly regains consciousness and thinks about what’s happened. Lying to save Frederick is worth it, but she decides that if she receives assurance of his safety before the inspector inquires again, she will admit her guilt, no matter the shame.
For Margaret, the strain of lying is almost too much, and her integrity is such that she can’t maintain the lie unless Frederick’s life depends on it.
As Thornton leaves the Hales’, he meets the police inspector, whom Thornton had helped to get his job. It turns out that Thornton had been the magistrate present at the dying railroad porter’s drunken deposition the night before. The inspector explains that the man’s death may have some connection with the Hale household. He asks for Thornton’s advice, since Margaret seems to have been mixed up in a case of mistaken identity. Mr. Thornton instructs the inspector not to take any steps until they have spoken again.
Thornton is of such prominence in Milton that he has connections and is capable of exerting influence in this situation, but wants to take the time to think before he acts.
Thornton goes home and agonizes over the events—has Margaret behaved improperly or not? What kind of shameful secret might she be hiding? Finally, he comes to his decision; he will save Margaret; “he might despise her, but the woman whom he had once loved should be kept from shame.”
Thornton can only speculate about the particulars of this case—and, having seen Margaret at the train station, he must assume she is lying to cover up something—but ultimately allows his love for Margaret to sway him toward a decision; perhaps an illustration of his “deeper religion of the heart.”
Thornton sends a note to the police inspector: “There will be no inquest,” since the dead man had a previous medical complaint, and the cause of his death is not conclusively attributed to the fall alone. Accordingly, the inspector returns to a miserable Margaret and informs her that there will be no further inquiry, thanks to Thornton.
Thornton uses his influence to protect Margaret’s reputation. Even though there’s a rift between them, he still loves her and wants to protect her reputation.
Margaret’s relief is clouded by the realization that Thornton had seen her at the train station and now believes her “degraded”—“she suddenly found herself at his feet, and was strangely distressed at her fall.” She shrinks from the realization that, deep down, she cares about Thornton’s good opinion of her.
Margaret is perplexed by her confused feelings about Thornton. For all her disdain toward him, she now finds herself beholden to him.
The next morning, Margaret receives word from Frederick—he had been safely out of England, in fact, well before she had lied to protect him. Margaret reproaches herself for not having told the truth—a failure of her trust in God, she believes, resulting in this abasement before Thornton.
Margaret believes that, had she maintained her integrity and spoken the truth, God would have protected Frederick. Her current shame before Thornton is the consequence of lack of faith. Her confidence in her ability to act rightly according to her conscience has been shaken.
Margaret bears the burden of the entire incident herself. Because Mr. Hale is no longer a priest, Margaret doesn’t know how her father might respond to her spiritual burdens. She must bear her secret and her “disgrace” alone.
Margaret again finds herself isolated. Not only must she bear her father’s burdens, she must also bear her own in silence, since she doesn’t know if they’re on the same wavelength spiritually. Mr. Hale’s dissent has consequences in their relationship.