Over the next few days, Maggie experiences a great internal struggle. She is tempted by the possibility of seizing some happiness for herself, after so many years of pain. Lucy notices that Maggie seems depressed, but attributes this to Tom’s continuing opposition to her marriage to Philip. Hoping to bring Maggie and Philip together, Lucy suggests that they should take a boat out on the river together. Meanwhile, Philip pays close attention to the interactions between Stephen and Maggie. He notices one interaction in which Stephen whispers “dearest” to Maggie, and goes home in the “wretched certainty” that Maggie loves Stephen.
Maggie is conflicted about finding happiness with Stephen because she knows that her happiness will be at the cost of Lucy and Philip’s pain. This demonstrates one of her most prominent character traits: her compassion and ability to empathize with others. Her intimate understanding of what it means to suffer makes her unwilling to inflict suffering on others. Suffering, in Maggie's case, has made her more tolerant and forgiving of others, and more susceptible to understanding and feeling sensitive to their emotions.
The next morning, Philip is too distressed and ill to go on the boat, and Stephen offers to take his place. Maggie protests, but eventually agrees to go out on the boat alone with Stephen. She allows him to row the boat for a while, but eventually notices that they have passed out of St. Ogg’s and are now in unfamiliar waters. Stephen confesses that he has deliberately rowed too far away from town so that they can elope and get married. At first, Maggie is horrified, but she can’t bring herself to tell him to stop the boat.
Maggie is oddly passive in the boat with Stephen, although he has rowed the boat away from St. Ogg’s without her permission. This is because she is conflicted, but also perhaps because her experience as a woman has often disempowered her and made it difficult for her to exert her agency. Maggie has been powerless at home for years, so it is not necessarily surprising that she should struggle to assert herself here as well.
Eventually, Stephen and Maggie pass a steamer boat on route to Mudport, the nearest large town. They pay for passage and sleep on the boat that night. Stephen is entirely happy, believing that Maggie will soon be his. Maggie, for her part, feels as if she is in a dream.
Stephen’s confidence that Maggie will be “his” demonstrates his belief that a woman's role is to be passive and conciliatory. He has essentially made the decision about their marriage for Maggie, taking her free will and choice away from her and treating her like property that can be won.