At the Red House, Nancy tries to persuade her sister to stay for tea. The Red House has been changed by Nancy’s presence, and all is purity and order where some rooms were once dreary or imposing. Priscilla insists that she and their father cannot stay for tea, as there is too much to do on their family farm, which she manages. Before leaving, the two sisters walk alone in the garden and Nancy tells Priscilla that she is contented, but worried about Godfrey and his low spirits.
The beauty and comfort of the Red House, which has been improved by Nancy’s orderly management, contrasts the unhappiness at the edges of Godfrey and Nancy’s marriage. Nancy chooses to confess her concerns over her husband’s low spirits to her sister.
Priscilla is frustrated by men like Godfrey who, she believes, always want what they don’t have, but Nancy defends her husband. It’s natural and understandable that he wishes he had children because he works hard and wants to have someone he can pass his property and income to, she says. After Priscilla and Mr. Lammeter depart, Godfrey leaves for a walk around the draining fields near the Stone Pits. During Godfrey’s customary Sunday afternoon walks, Nancy tries to read the Bible, but ends up reflecting. Her thoughts often focus on her own choices and character, replaying memories in her mind to make certain that she has done everything well. “I can do so little—have I done it all well?” She repeatedly asks herself.
Nancy complains to Priscilla about her predicament, but also defends her husband, which Priscilla has little patience for. Nancy’s contemplation on Sunday afternoons focuses primarily on the hole in her marriage: she and Godfrey are childless. This situation is linked to Godfrey’s past and his unacknowledged biological daughter and it seems Godfrey’s past actions must, in a moral sense, be linked with his present unhappiness.
Nancy is hurt by the knowledge that their lack of children has been an aspect of their lives to which Godfrey cannot reconcile himself. Nancy had once prepared a drawer of baby clothes, enthusiastically expecting a child, but only one small dress had ever been used, for a burial dress.
The death of a child of Nancy and Godfrey’s, perhaps a stillborn death or an infant death, shows the emotional trauma Nancy and Godfrey have gone through over the years as they’ve hoped for a child of their own.
Nancy had resisted over the years Godfrey’s few attempts to suggest that they adopt a child. Nancy holds strongly to her opinions and principles, and one such principle is her refusal to adopt a child. She feels such a course of action attempts to change the lot in life given by Providence, which would bring about a curse on anyone who tried to get what a high power had determined they were better without. Any child adopted by them would turn out badly.
Nancy’s conviction that adoption is wrong is one of her many strongly held, but relatively indefensible, moral beliefs. The villagers of Raveloe do not always make rational decisions or assumptions. Nancy’s conviction is tied to her faith and understanding of God’s role in human lives, as she believes that if God has not granted her children then she must not try to get children by other means.
From the first suggestion of adoption, Godfrey had specifically spoken of Eppie as a child whom they could adopt. Surely the weaver would be pleased by this Godfrey felt, to have his adopted child raised to such a high station and himself taken care of for the rest of his life. Godfrey knew nothing of the weaver’s true connection with and feelings for the child. His natural kindness would not have allowed him to contemplate such a plan otherwise.
Godfrey’s interest in adoption focuses on his true daughter Eppie. Godfrey is unable to see the pain that separating Eppie and Marner could cause. His position in society has always been such that he supposes anyone would love the opportunity to improve their circumstances and secure their wellbeing. Godfrey is not bad—he would not try to attempt adopting Eppie if he understood the pain it would cause—but he is blind and weak.
Nancy, during her Sunday afternoon reflection, reassures herself that she was right to discourage any consideration of adoption. Nancy labors to make her life with Godfrey perfect in every way except the one that in unchangeable, consoling herself that a different woman may have had children, but could not otherwise have made her husband so happy. Nancy’s earnest goodness makes Godfrey certain that he’ll never be able to confess his past to her. He feels the confession would cause an irreparable separation between him and his beloved wife.
Nancy’s natural orderliness and properness causes her to strive to create a perfect life with Godfrey, in every way that she can. If not for Nancy’s deference to her husband and her desire to please him, perhaps Godfrey could not have been as happy as he is. He does know Nancy’s value and importance to him, which is why he continues to hide the truth of his past.
Godfrey’s conscience is never easy about Eppie and his lack of children with Nancy feels like an intentional punishment. The couple hasn’t spoken of the idea of adoption in four years at the time of this Sunday afternoon, and Nancy wonders if Godfrey will mind their childless lives more or less as they grow older. Jane, their servant, enters the parlor to report that outside all the villagers are hurrying in one direction. Nancy waits at the window, overcome by a vague fear, and wishing Godfrey would return.
Godfrey himself recognizes a connection between his past wrong in not claiming Eppie and his current lack of any children. The couple’s concern with their childless lives has the moralistic tone of several events in the novel. Bad choices have consequences that may be indirect or manifest years later.