What Margaret doesn’t know is that Thornton’s change of opinion about her is not just due to the fact that she lied, but that this lie is associated in his mind with some mysterious other lover, concerning whom Margaret evidently feels guilt. “The very falsehood that stained her, was a proof how blindly she loved another—this dark, slight, elegant, handsome man—while he himself was rough, and stern, and strongly made. He lashed himself into an agony of fierce jealousy.”
Since the reader knows that the mysterious “lover” is actually Frederick, there is an element of humor to Thornton’s thinking, and it shows how infatuated with Margaret he still is.
Mrs. Thornton has heard about Margaret’s presence at the train station scuffle. She believes that Margaret has led Thornton on by pretending to be fond of him, only to play him off against the unknown younger man with whom she was seen at the station. Thornton tells his mother that he believes Margaret to be in some sort of difficulty connected with this man, and she may be in need of Mrs. Thornton’s “womanly counsel.”
Mrs. Thornton already has a low opinion of Margaret, so she needs little encouragement to confront Margaret for (as she thinks) treating her son so shamefully.
Mrs. Thornton feels more bitter than ever towards Margaret. She even feels “a savage pleasure” at the idea of speaking to her “in the guise of a fulfillment of a duty [to Mrs. Hale].” She wants to show herself capable of resisting the “glamour” she believes Margaret throws over others.
Mrs. Thornton displays a cruel streak in her readiness to abuse Mrs. Hale’s trust in her by confronting Margaret in this way.
When Mrs. Thornton arrives at the Hales’, Margaret has just finished relating Mrs. Hale’s last days in a letter to Edith and is in a softened mood. Mrs. Thornton is thrown off by this—“her sharp Damascus blade seemed out of place, and useless among rose-leaves.” She nevertheless convinces herself that Margaret is trying to manipulate her good opinion and steels herself to follow through. She explains her promise to Mrs. Hale to speak to Margaret in the event that she acts wrongly. Margaret thinks that Thornton must have sent his mother to warn Margaret about the dangers she’s exposed herself to by lying.
Mrs. Thornton is prepared to believe the worst about Margaret, based on rumor and her own persistent assumptions about Margaret.
Instead, Mrs. Thornton speaks of the “indiscretion” of walking after dark with a young man. Margaret immediately turns combative. She says that Mrs. Hale didn’t mean for her to be exposed to insults like this. As Mrs. Thornton continues to speak of Margaret’s “compromising” herself, Margaret declines to attempt to justify herself further and excuses herself “with the noiseless grace of an offended princess.”
Meanwhile, Higgins keeps his promise to Margaret, waiting for hours to speak to Thornton. Thornton’s business is running behind because of disruptions related to the strike, and he is not in a good mood. The mill’s overlooker reminds Thornton that Higgins is known as “a turbulent spirit,” so he sees Higgins as the sort of troublemaker who has upset his business. He denies Higgins a job and won’t believe his story about supporting the orphaned children. But as he watches Higgins leave, he can’t help feeling impressed when he hears how long Higgins stood there waiting.
Thornton, like his mother, is willing enough to act on assumption and rumor; and yet, he’s open to reconsidering when he hears how patiently Higgins has waited for an audience with him.