One night in early October, Helen happens to see Arthur press Annabella’s hand and tenderly bring it to his lips. Helen leaves the room in a fury and Arthur follows her, insisting that it meant nothing. He’d had too much wine, he says, and she shouldn’t make such a fuss over a silly slip. Helen, though, warns him that he is in great danger of making her hate him. Arthur argues that if she hadn’t seen the transgression it would have meant nothing, but then Helen turns the tables on him and asks how he would feel if Lord Lowborough treated her to the same flirty gestures as he treated Annabella. Arthur answers that he would happily blow his friend’s brains out.
Arthur’s hypocrisy in this matter is stunning, or it would be stunning if it weren’t so common. He thinks his dalliances with Annabella are nothing to get upset over, but if Lord Lowborough were to kiss Helen’s hand in the same manner he would kill him. Women are trapped by such double standards into playing the part of angels in their own homes. They cannot complain or act out themselves; their only option is to endure what would drive most men mad.
Helen continues her argument, telling Arthur that it is no joke to toy with the emotions of people he claims to value. She asks, are the marriage vows so cheap that he would flaunt them so? He counters that she is breaking her vows to him—she promised to honor and obey him, and all she does is abuse and blame him. Helen warns him again that this will end in her hating him, but he claims she can never hate him, not while she loves him. Women’s natures, he says, are more constant than men’s. Allowances must be made.
It has been clear for some time that Helen and Arthur have very different views of marriage. Helen wants a holy union in which their love grows with time and intimacy. Arthur would like Helen to make as little trouble for him as possible. He lives for pleasure, and her wants and desires are getting in the way of that.
Helen asks if he means that she has lost his affections to Annabella, and Arthur says no, of course not. Helen is an angel, Annabella dust in comparison, but he is a lowly mortal and would like Helen to forgive him for this offense. Helen relents and bursts into tears. After this confrontation, they get along well for a time. Arthur is merely civil to Annabella, and both Helen and Lord Lowborough are gratified by the change.
Some time later, Helen finds herself alone in a room with Annabella and is deeply embarrassed by the situation. She doesn’t know what to say to the young woman. In fact, she hates being in her presence. Annabella breaks the ice by asking if Arthur is often so merry in company. Helen says she doubts he ever will be so again. Annabella then assumes that Helen won him over with a show of theatrical tears, and Helen, offended, says she never cries for effect. Annabella asserts that she doesn’t have to, because her husband worships her and would never treat her poorly. Helen suggests that Annabella is taking too much credit for her husband’s good behavior, and Annabella admits that they are all fallible creatures. Then she insinuates that Arthur might not be worthy of Helen’s love. They end the passive aggressive encounter in mutual dislike.
Annabella reveals herself in this scene to be a heartless villain, and her views on marriage are even more shallow and corrupt than Arthur’s. She seems to be proving correct Arthur’s theory about Lord Lowborough’s chances of happiness in marriage: she deceives her husband and he doesn’t know the difference. In fact, he worships her. It is perhaps unfortunate that female characters in this novel so often fall into such simple categories—generally angel or devil—as it deprives them of productive complexity.