The gossip about little Arthur’s parentage has spread throughout the neighborhood. Even Mrs. Markham seems to think there might be some truth to the rumors, saying Helen has always tried to be different from other women. Disgusted, Gilbert takes a book from his shelf and walks over to Wildfell Hall, hoping to use the book as a pretext for a meeting with Helen. In the garden with Arthur, he meets Helen, and she welcomes him to walk with her and assess the progress the plants he gave her have made. Among the roses, Gilbert dares to hold Helen’s hand, and he sees a look in her eye that confirms she returns his affection. But she begs him to treat her as a sister from now on. She can’t be more than a friend to him, she says. He demands to know why. She tells him that someday she might explain, but to please to leave her alone for the time being, agreeing, as a concession, to call him “Gilbert.”
Many of the villagers of Linden-Car are more apt to think the worst of Helen just because she lives in an unconventional manner. That is her first sin: daring to be unlike other women. Mrs. Markham’s statement shows just how prejudiced people are against the newcomer, and how tied to gender such prejudice is. Gilbert’s meeting Helen in the garden is likewise important. Roses bring to mind Fergus’s thought that Helen is like an exotic plant among boring houseplants. Her exoticism is more a problem at this point than it is an asset.
Leaving, Gilbert runs into Mr. Lawrence, also on his way to Wildfell Hall. Gilbert accosts his former friend, demanding to know why he is visiting Helen. Mr. Lawrence replies that he will tell Gilbert about his dealings with her when he behaves like a gentleman. The Reverend Millward interrupts the quarrel, laughing at the two men and deeming the woman at the center of the drama unworthy. Gilbert is deeply offended and walks away in a huff.
This scene works as a bit of foil to the one earlier in which Gilbert and Mr. Lawrence meet on the road way and laugh at their romantic entanglements. For Gilbert, love is no longer a laughing matter. It is worth fighting for.