Helen continues to worry about Arthur’s influence on her son, to the point that she can’t even enjoy the boy’s good moods without seeing his father’s wildness in them. What she wishes is that Arthur would be gone more often, and she gets her wish in the fall when he travels to Lord Lowborough’s estate to spend the fall there. It is during Arthur’s trip that Walter Hargrave confesses his love to Helen. She rejects him so soundly that he meekly makes off for London, and she doesn’t see him again for two months when he returns home to the Grove. Helen pays a call on Esther there, and Esther demands to know what Helen has done to her brother. When Helen refuses to tell her what transpired, Esther asks Walter what has happened to make them at odds with one another.
As a devout Christian, Helen has no wish to avenge herself on Arthur with an affair of her own. Walter’s importuning her on the subject reveals just how little he understands her true character. At times, Helen seems almost too angelic, but she is the moral center of the story, and Brontë makes it clear that her judgment is to be trusted in all matters. To enter into an adulterous relationship with Walter Hargrave would strip Helen of her claim to the high ground, which is one of the few comforts she has left.
It’s an embarrassing scene for everyone, and Esther tries to defuse it by asking Walter to go pick a rose for Helen. He brings back a beautiful moss rose, and he and Helen eventually fall into conversation. He asks her if she is unhappy that Arthur is at Lord Lowborough’s, and Helen answers truthfully that she doesn’t care. Walter says he does not understand her—her nature is too angelic for him to comprehend, but he can tell that she is as miserable as he is. He suggests that they need not be so unhappy, but Helen cuts him off, reminding him that she has a son to tend to and he a mother, who would be mortified to know of her son’s talking in such a way to a married woman.
The significance and symbolic meaning of the rose morphs over the course of the novel. Here it suggests Walter’s insincerity. The bloom might be beautiful, but, having been cut from the bush, it will soon wilt. Helen knows now the pitfalls of romantic love. Her wish is to be a good and stable mother to little Arthur so that he will not grow up to be a worthless and sensual man like his father.
Walter apologizes for speaking to her so passionately, and Helen thinks at first that she is finally rid of his unsought advances. Later, though, she sees him riding around the estate, lingering and looking for her. She stops visiting the Grove altogether, and rarely goes walking without Rachel to accompany her. One day, she hears the sound of horse hooves behind her and it is Walter Hargrave. He declares his love again, and insists that there is a way out of misery for them both. He knows she cannot love Arthur. So why should she be faithful to him, especially when she knows he has not been faithful to her?
Helen had thought that when Arthur left Grassdale for Lord Lowborough’s estate she would be able to enjoy a period of calm and quiet at home with her son, but Walter Hargrave now disturbs her peace with his pleadings. His advances are becoming as unwelcome of those of Mr. Boarham and Mr. Wilmot, the difference being, of course, that Walter knows he is propositioning a married woman.
Helen is not persuaded by Walter’s arguments. She tells him that there is another, more important life beyond this one that they should both aspire to be worthy of, and that she is not about to risk her salvation on the fleeting pleasures of the flesh. Walter will not be silenced, though, and he continues to argue with her, so Helen changes tactics. She asks him if he truly loves her. He says he does, and she can’t know how much. Then, Helen says, never bring up this subject again. If he loves her, he will not torture her with such declarations anymore. He agrees, and when they shake hands as friends, Helen sees real agony in his eyes. He vows to leave the country and does, settling for the time being in Paris.
Since Helen’s faith is her main comfort in life, it is impossible for her to act against her religious convictions. Having found life on this earth a deep disappointment, Helen is setting her sights on the next one. It is difficult for both the reader and for Helen to discern if Walter’s agony is a result of unrequited love or simply thwarted desire. Regardless, it would seem that Helen’s appeals to his conscience have finally worked.