Helen admits to her diary and herself that her joy in being Arthur Huntingdon’s fiancé is tempered by the faults of his character that she sees more and more. She had considered thoughtlessness his main character flaw, but now she is worried that his heart is less kind than she thought. She discovers this flaw when out riding with him, Lord Lowborough, and Annabella. With the lord and Annabella at a safe distance ahead of them, Arthur acquaints Helen with some of Lowborough’s unfortunate history, which includes losing his fiancé because he’d squandered his fortune gambling. Lowborough, Arthur says, is singularly unfortunate at the tables, whereas Arthur is always lucky.
Up until this point, the reader only knows Lord Lowborough as a sad-looking man with an interest in Annabella Wilmot and her fortune. Now, thanks to Arthur’s story, Lowborough’s entire history is laid bare, as is Arthur’s unusual lack of empathy for even one of his closest “friends.”
Arthur insists he doesn’t care for gambling. He only goes to watch the action and find amusement in others’ gains and losses. Arthur then treats Helen to a story about Lowborough’s gambling problems. One night, on the verge of ruin, Lowborough takes a challenge from Grimsby for just one more game. Grimsby wins and Lowborough, completely out of money, goes home with Arthur, who gets him drunk in hopes of taking his mind off his problems. Lowborough grows sentimental and predicts that his fiancée will have nothing to do with him now. No matter, Arthur says—he can always find a woman willing to marry him for his title.
The fact that Arthur takes pleasure in watching his friends squander their money says a great deal about his character. He is entertained by other people’s suffering. And his attempts to make Lowborough feel better are just as revealing. He gets him drunk and consoles him with talk of a woman marrying him only for his title. Helen, it would seem, has a lot of “saving” to do.
Arthur continues his tale. Lowborough has replaced gambling with drinking as his favored vice, and Arthur and the rest of the crew encourage him in this because it seems to make him feel better about his indebted state. One night, though, Lowborough vows to drink no more and to be a more responsible and ethical man from then on. Arthur assumes he’s joking, but then they don’t see Lowborough for a week. Eventually he turns up again, saying he is only joining them to get a break from his own morbid thoughts. In celebration, Arthur pours him a glass of liquor, and Lowborough drains it discreetly. When Arthur pours him a second, however, Lowborough throws it at him. After that, Lowborough abstains completely from drink and gambling.
The bonds between Arthur and his friends have clearly been formed over alcohol. They enjoy gambling, drinking to excess, and little else. Lord Lowborough’s attempts at sobriety invite not pity or support but scorn and attempts to corrupt him further. This suggests that his friends do not actually care about his welfare but only his willingness to contribute in some way to their fun.
Lowborough still joins the group often, though, because he doesn’t want to be alone, and gradually the young men grow annoyed with him for being so moderate in his habits. Either he joins in the fun, his friends say, or he has to stay away. Arthur takes his side, though, and tells them to be patient—he’ll come around. One night, Lowborough comes to the club, obviously suffering from having taken too much laudanum the night before. That is the one vice he still has. He says he cannot see any reason to rejoice in life, and his friends try to cheer him up. Arthur offers him a bottle of brandy, which he refuses at first, but later drains to great applause. Unfortunately, though, the drink sends him into a seizure and he is laid low for a time with a fever.
Arthur’s attempts to be a good friend to Lowborough are really anything but. Brandy is the last thing Lowborough needs at that moment, but it’s the best idea Arthur has. In the end, it nearly kills him. Arthur is obviously trying to present himself as a kind and thoughtful man for Helen’s benefit, but what he’s really doing is painting a thorough and discouraging portrait of how he treats the people he claims to care about and how he chooses to spend the bulk of his time.
Arthur tells Helen that, when Lowborough recovers, he counsels him to adhere to a program of moderation. Drink for fun, Arthur suggests, but don’t let it rule your life. For a short time, it works, but Lowborough has an addictive personality and is soon on a rollercoaster of abstinence and indulgence that lands him in complete despair. He confides in Arthur that his only salvation is a wife. He needs a companion who, unlike Arthur and the rest of the men at the club, will encourage him to keep to the straight and narrow. He worries, though, that no one will have him on account of his poverty, and, as Arthur points out to Helen, that has indeed been the case. Mothers are turned off by Lowborough’s lack of fortune, and their daughters by his downcast looks.
Lowborough hopes to marry a woman who will save him from himself. This goal echoes Helen’s expressed wish upon entering her engagement to Arthur. As a serious and practicing Christian, she hopes to help cure him of his worst vices and habits. It can be presumed that, before he launched into this story, she did not know the worst of it. And, since Arthur believes himself to be a model of moderation, Helen’s goal could prove all that more difficult to achieve.
Then Lowborough met Annabella, and his prospects brightened. He had hoped but not dared dream he would meet a woman who would take him and whom he could also love and esteem, but Annabella seemed to be both, especially when she joined the party at Staningley and was no longer around her other suitors. Lowborough approaches Arthur one night and tells him that his greatest hopes are at hand: Annabella loves him! Arthur, laughing, lets Helen in on a little secret: Annabella despises Lowborough and is only encouraging his attentions because she wants his title and estate. Helen is horrified. How can Arthur find such a tragedy funny? Especially when it concerns his dear friend?
Helen now has every reason to pity Lowborough and despise Annabella. She also has reason to worry about her own future husband’s powers of empathy. He finds the entire affair funny, just as he found Helen’s sketches and the local minister’s earnestness funny, but it is actually a tragedy. Lowborough genuinely loves Annabella, mostly for her beauty but also as a response to her insincere attentions to him, and the marriage seems doomed from the start.
Arthur contends that he cannot tell Lowborough the truth. It will break his heart, and it would be playing a dirty trick on Annabella to betray her confidence. Perhaps Annabella will act out the lie so well that Lowborough will never know the truth and will be happy in his self-deception. But Arthur says he will do whatever else he can to make his beloved happy. Helen begs Arthur then to never again take pleasure in the suffering of others, and he agrees and lets her go.
Arthur thinks it of absolutely no importance whether Lowborough’s marital happiness is due to sincere mutual regard or total deception on his wife’s part. His attitude calls into question the sincerity of his own dealings with Helen, and shows the lack of respect he has for the institution of marriage.
Returning to her room, Helen finds Annabella Wilmot there. Helen silently admires the other woman’s blooming beauty. Annabella then confides in her that Lowborough has proposed and she has accepted. Does Helen envy her now? No, Helen says, but she wishes her every happiness. Annabella assures her that she is the happiest woman alive, and then leaves. Helen’s servant Rachel, who is there to help Helen dress for dinner, tells her mistress that the servants have heard rumors about both Lowborough and Arthur Huntingdon not being the best of men, but Helen silences her.
Annabella’s beauty was enough to capture Lord Lowborough’s heart. This scenario brings to mind again Mrs. Maxwell’s warning about attaching oneself for life to a person based solely on their looks, which, after all, fade. Rachel’s talk might be unpleasant for Helen to hear, but Helen knows that Rachel, as a longtime caretaker, friend, and companion, only has her best interests at heart.
The guests leave and Helen feels the absence of Arthur keenly. He writes to her often though, and his letters are like his personality: witty, diverting, and full of affection. Helen wishes that he could express himself differently at times. She wonders when they’re married what she’ll do with the serious side of herself.
Helen seems gradually to be losing all the sides of herself that do not involve Arthur. Before long, there might not be much of her left.