It is now October 5th, and Helen writes that Esther Hargrave is growing into a fine young woman. She often spends time with Helen, although Helen isn’t sure why. She supposes Esther’s fondness for her is due primarily to the fact that she doesn’t have many people to talk to. One day, while taking their children for a walk around the estate, Helen and Milicent talk of Esther’s future. Milicent begs Helen to counsel Esther to marry wisely. Milicent would like Helen to advise Esther to marry only if her suitor is the best of men. Helen assures her she’ll tell Esther to marry for love. This worries Milicent, who allowed romantic feelings to influence her decision to marry Hattersley. Helen assumes that Milicent is concerned about Esther because of her own unhappy match.
While still very young themselves, Helen and Milicent are now experienced authorities on what it means to live in an unhappy marriage, and the costs such marriages exact. They both want a better outcome for Esther. Helen’s hope that Esther will marry for love shows that she has not yet grown completely cynical about the marriage state, though. She married Arthur for love, and that has led mostly to misery, but Helen still clearly believes that marrying for practical reasons, i.e. financial stability, is not a recipe for happiness either.
Milicent assures Helen that she is actually quite content in her marriage, and Helen believes her—but she knows that her friend wishes her husband were a better man. Milicent hopes that he could still become one, as he’s only 26. Helen picks up on Milicent’s opinion that Arthur is, in many ways, a worse case than Hattersley, and, far from being offended, Helen agrees with her. She does worry, though, that Hattersley could be just as dissipated and useless in a few years. Milicent breaks down in tears over Helen’s predicament, and Helen is touched by her compassion.
It is now clear that Helen’s friends are aware of the depth of her unhappiness. Of all the London libertines, Arthur is the worst. Even Hattersley, who abuses Milicent physically, has a chance for reform. Arthur, Milicent seems to suggest, is a lost cause.
Eventually they go back to the house, and Hattersley comes to visit with his daughter. She loves her father, but he roughhouses with her too long and she ends up crying. Milicent comforts her daughter and Hattersley declares Lady Lowborough (Annabella) a fine woman, making Milicent jealous. He says not to worry—he loves Milicent, but adores Annabella. He wishes, though, that Milicent were a little less timid. He compares his relationship with her to walking across soft carpet all day. Eventually a man wants a rock to steady him, he says.
Women again are placed in an impossible position. Arthur recently expressed a desire that Helen be more like Milicent; now Hattersley wishes Milicent were more like Annabella or even Helen. These men always want what they don’t have, and their wives end up suffering for their fickleness.
Milicent leaves the room to straighten her hair (Hattersley mussed it when he hugged her), and Hattersley continues to grouse in a casual manner about Milicent’s meekness. Helen scolds him for treating Milicent unkindly. Hattersley asks if Milicent often complains of him to Helen. Helen says no, but, having observed her friend closely, she can tell that she is often made unhappy by her husband’s excesses. He argues that it’s her very meekness that is to blame. Why should he act differently when Milicent never complains?
It’s convenient for Hattersley to blame Milicent for his own failures. She is the last person who would ever question him, and, as a woman, she has been taught to behave this way. It is her role. The fact that this setup does not lead to happiness for either the woman or the man suggests a new system is needed.
Hattersley insists that he’d be a better man if he had a wife like Helen to check him, but he admits that Arthur Huntingdon often wishes Helen were more like Milicent. He then claims that Arthur is a much worse man than he, and asks Walter Hargrave, who just entered the room, to back him up in his assertion. Hargrave agrees, and after Hattersley leaves, approaches Helen and tells her he has something of import to say.
Hattersley values Helen, even if Arthur doesn’t, athough Hattersley’s regard is suspect. He wants a mother figure, not a wife. The fact that everyone agrees that Arthur is the worst of them does not bode well for Helen’s attempts at reforming him.
Walter says he has been waiting for the perfect opportunity and he thinks this moment is it, but Helen refuses to hear his news. She knows it will be unpleasant and has no wish to know. He agrees to keep his secret, but reluctantly. He had hoped to soften the blow of it, he says. He leaves and, left alone, Helen ponders what the secret could be. She assumes it is something about Arthur, and that Walter hoped to tell her so that he could take advantage of her gratitude for some nefarious purpose of his own.
Walter Hargrave’s character is a moving target. In one scene, Helen considers him a true friend, in another, she thinks him devious and selfish. It is difficult to discern if Helen’s suspicions are well-founded, since the reader has seen her inconsistent treatment of Gilbert, but it is clear she does not trust Walter to act altruistically.
More time passes, and Helen does not regret her decision to silence Walter. Arthur continues to moderate his habits, and she wonders if she dares hope that he has finally changed his ways.
Helen is becoming a prisoner not only of marriage but of hope.