It’s September, and Arthur is still away. Helen is enjoying the company of Milicent and her children, as well as Esther and Mr. Hattersley. Hattersley seems determined to reform, to become a sober and responsible father, and to remove himself permanently from the company of Arthur Huntingdon and the others. Helen is glad but not quite convinced. She engages him in conversation about what he needs to do to truly reform. He swears he’s doing well and that Milicent’s happiness is proof, but Helen points out that his wife is no longer the plump, blooming creature that he married. She is now thin and careworn. He claims that this is the children’s fault, not his.
Helen had wanted to reform Arthur, but that dream officially died when he threw her paintings into the fire. There is still hope for Hattersley, though. His blaming the children for Milicent’s loss of bloom suggests that he has a long way to go in terms of coming to terms with the consequences of his bad behavior, but he has already done what Arthur never did (except when he was first courting Helen): express the desire to change.
Helen produces two letters from Milicent and hands them to Hattersley. The first letter covers one of Hattersley’s drunken periods with his friends, and the other concerns a time when Hattersley is home and is working hard to be a good husband and attentive father. Helen hopes he’ll see the contrast and be moved to truly change his ways. The letters have exactly the effect she was anticipating. Hattersley is overcome by his wife’s words. When he’s finished reading, he goes to Milicent and picks her up, swearing to be a better man from now on.
Hattersley’s change of heart underscores the power of the written word. Milicent’s letters clearly have a life-changing effect on him. In contrast, Helen’s relationship with Arthur sours partially because his letters from London grow terse. Brontë is subtly pointing out that written communication in the form of letters or a diary has the very real potential to alter the course of a human life.
Milicent gives Helen credit for helping her husband see his errors and repent, but Helen says he was ready to reform before she handed him the letters, and she just hopes his resolve will last. Later, she receives yet another letter from Milicent in which she claims to be completely happy, thanks to her husband’s new attitude. Helen knows, of course, that Hattersley has had little to tempt him during this time. It is her greatest wish that Milicent will not be disappointed.
Milicent’s happy ending is in direct contrast to Helen’s very unhappy present. Still, Helen does not begrudge her friend her happiness. To do so would be unchristian and ungenerous besides. Helen will not allow herself to hope too much, though. She knows from cruel experience where such expectations can lead.