Arthur returns from London in even worse shape than he did the year before. He is feverish and impatient with everyone, and Helen bides her time, waiting for the right moment to confront him about his conduct. Finally, after he explodes at a servant for dropping a tray of crockery, Helen begins gently reminding him that his fever and ill humors are, in fact, his fault. He is only sick because he did not take care of himself in town. She tries to cheer him up by bringing little Arthur in, but the baby is teething and his fussiness annoys his father, so she takes him back to the nursery. She is gone for a time, getting little Arthur to sleep, and when she returns, her husband scolds her for caring more for the baby, and for the feelings of a clumsy servant, than she does for him.
Arthur is not made for country life, and he only returns when he is sick and in need of nursing. Helen enables this sort of behavior by accepting him home largely on his own terms. She has no other choice. This time, though, she does not take such care with his feelings. She lets him know she is displeased with him and his habits. Arthur doesn’t listen, though, and his annoyance with his son proves he has no capacity to change.
Helen begins to weep, and Arthur grows frustrated with her. What could she possibly have to cry about? Helen tells him that she is crying for him. When he degrades himself, he degrades her. Arthur wants only another glass of wine and to be left alone. He informs Helen that he lived more in the last four months than she has her entire life, and it’s a wonder such living didn’t kill him. He wishes that she were more like Milicent. Hattersley’s wife is perfect, Arthur argues—she lets him do exactly as he pleases and never complains. Helen says Milicent is miserable. Arthur says that’s impossible, because if Hattersley is happy, so is she.
This is Mrs. Markham’s idea of a perfect marriage. Arthur pleases himself; Helen does what she can to make him happy. For Helen, though, it is a living hell. On top of that, she cannot seem to win. Having once grown tired of Helen’s retiring personality, Arthur now wishes she were more like Milicent. Milicent, too, conducts herself as Mrs. Markham would have women behave. The only people happy in this scenario are the husbands.
Helen knows better. In letters, Milicent has complained about her husband’s bad behavior and implored Helen to try to use her influence with Arthur to remedy things. Helen gently declines her friend’s request, telling Milicent that she overestimates Helen’s influence with Arthur, and that the two men feed on each other. It’s not enough that one should reform. This exchange angers Arthur, who wishes Helen would be as kind and caring to him as she was last time he came home in a feverish state. But Helen knows such kindness would do no good. He does not repent his treatment of her, only his illness, and now she has a son to look after as well as an ailing and peevish husband.
Helen cannot perform miracles. So far, her efforts at trying to convince Arthur to reform have failed. That means her chances of getting Ralph Hattersley to change his ways are next to nil. These men have no motivation to change anyway—they suffer no consequences as a result of their bad behavior, so there is no reason for them do anything other than what they have been doing all along.
Helen’s biggest enemy is Arthur’s drinking, so she does whatever she can to curb it. She has help in this matter from Mr. Hargrave, whose own moderate habits serve as a check on his friend. Helen had approached him and asked if he might help her keep Arthur on the straight and narrow, and while she now considers Walter a friend, she worries sometimes about his fondness for her and how Arthur would feel if he knew she and Walter had a secret from him.
Helen’s strong stance against drinking as a villager in Linden-Car is now easier to understand. Since she knows that Arthur and his friends feed on each other, she hopes that enlisting Walter’s help will lead to positive change.
Helen also worries that she has grown desensitized to vice and bad behavior. What before she would have deemed wrong and sinful she now has daily acquaintance with and is therefore growing rather used to. On one hand, she is glad. She is less judgmental than before, more accepting. On the other hand, she is concerned because she is so close to Arthur, so intimately connected to him and his foibles, and she fears she will be pulled down into the sinful hole he’s dug for himself.
Helen is an extension of her husband—she no longer has an identity of her own. How he acts and what he does affects her so deeply it is as if she were committing the acts herself. The same cannot be said of Arthur, however; he is not an extension of Helen. He is allowed and encouraged to be an autonomous human being.
As Arthur grows healthy again, Helen suggests they all go to the seaside as a family, but Arthur refuses. He finds the coast boring, and, besides, he has an invitation from a friend to go shooting in Scotland. Helen is upset about his leaving her again, but he assures her there’s nothing to worry about. A shooting excursion in Scotland is bound to be a pretty tame affair.
Arthur only remains at home for as long as it takes him to recover from his sinful sojourns to London. He has no real interest in his family beyond how they can serve him, and Helen is to be left alone again for an extended period of time.