The narrative is back in Gilbert Markham’s hands, and he is again addressing his brother-in-law, Jack Halford. He writes to him of staying up late into the night to read Helen’s diary and of rising early to finish it. As soon as he can manage it, he decides to make his way to Wildfell Hall to beg Helen’s forgiveness. The day is a beautiful one, brisk and golden. He leans out his window to savor the weather and the knowledge that Helen is the pure and perfect creature he’d thought her to be.
The weather is yet again blessing a union between Gilbert and Helen, or at the very least it is blessing their friendship. Gilbert’s throwing open the window to savor the day represents the light that has been shed on Helen’s past life. He now knows she really is the angel he always thought her to be.
At Wildfell Hall, Rachel tries to keep Gilbert from entering. She tells him her mistress is not well, but little Arthur appears and tells him Helen would like to see him. Gilbert gives Helen back her manuscript and asks her to forgive him. She, in turn, asks him to forgive her. Then she begs him to promise never to visit her again. She will leave Wildfell Hall at the first opportunity, she says. Gilbert is dumbstruck and tells her he can make no such promise—he loves her more than ever. But Helen is adamant, especially when he tries to persuade her that Arthur can no longer make any claims to being her husband. Helen is shocked that Gilbert would appeal to her in such a way.
As a wife and a practicing Christian, Helen is still not free to love anyone other than Arthur. She asks Gilbert not to visit her again because she does not want to invite unwelcome gossip or break her vows. The difference, then, between her refusal of Walter Hargrave and her efforts to keep Gilbert at arm’s length is one of affection. She cares for Gilbert in ways she never cared for Walter.
Desperate, Gilbert asks if they might now meet as friends, but Helen tells him that is impossible. Doesn’t he see that, the more they meet, the dearer they will be to each other? He asks if they might write, but she says no, they will hear of each other through her brother. At the mention of Frederick Lawrence, Gilbert is overcome with shame. Helen still doesn’t know of their meeting on the road.
Having read her diary from start to finish, Gilbert is now eager for more communication with Helen, but Helen knows very well the power and danger inherent in the written word. Gilbert finally feels the remorse he should have long ago about beating Frederick Lawrence.
Gilbert vows to wait for her for as long as it takes, knowing, of course, that this means for as long as Arthur lives. Helen tells him that that, too, is impossible. Arthur might live to an old age, and Gilbert should marry while he is still young. She has had a great deal of time to think of their situation, and she is determined that they end their acquaintance now. But, Gilbert asks, might they at the very least write to each other as friends? Helen seizes on this idea. She likes the thought of them corresponding as spiritual soul mates rather than lovers, and offers this proposition: she will go away and, after she is settled six months in another home, Gilbert may write to her through Frederick. The six-month delay is to act as both a cooling-off period and a test. If they are true soulmates, half a year is nothing.
Helen still takes her commitment to Arthur seriously, even if he has learned to completely disregard the sanctity of marriage. She is ready to give Gilbert up out of a selfless love for him and a desire to be true to her religious principles. But, the idea of writing to him as a soulmate is attractive. The angelic Helen is on full display here. She is eager to sacrifice herself and her own happiness for Gilbert’s future good, even if it means becoming a stranger to the one friend she made in her new home.
Gilbert asks her again if they really will never meet again, and Helen says at least they can take comfort in the fact that they will meet again in Heaven. To Gilbert in this moment, that is very cold comfort indeed. He has no wish to meet Helen as a disembodied soul when he will be of no more importance to her than a thousand other disembodied souls. Helen argues that they will not think of love then as they do now, and that the more one loves, the happier one is.
Helen’s faith is as strong as ever. Although her marriage to Arthur tested it at times, she still believes in the promise of an afterlife and hopes to meet Gilbert there, where they can love each other without guilt or disapproval. But they will also love without individuality, Gilbert argues.
Gilbert is still not persuaded, so Helen makes the argument that as earthly humans they cannot yet know what glory awaits them in heaven. They’re like the caterpillar who doesn’t understand he is to become a butterfly, or the child who thinks he’ll miss his toys when, in fact, as an adult he has innumerable pleasures and consolations to take their place.
Earthly love, according to Helen’s argument, is a lowly worm when compared to the beautiful, perfect love people can hope to experience in heaven. It is no wonder she would make such a comparison when her one experience with such love involved Arthur.
Gilbert finally yields, but not before they share one, quick, intense embrace during which Gilbert feels their hearts and souls mingling. Then he leaves, and spends several hours in melancholy misery, crying and worrying about Helen, alone at Wildfell Hall, doing the same. He decides to visit Frederick Lawrence and apologize for his violent behavior. When he gets to Woodford, Frederick’s estate, a servant tells him his master is very ill and cannot have visitors, but Gilbert talks his way in and finds Frederick feverish and unwilling to talk to him. Eventually, though, Gilbert apologizes, and Frederick accepts it.
Helen wants to put them through a six-month test, but it’s clear to Gilbert that they are soulmates already. Gilbert’s visit to Frederick is a form of atonement. He is hoping his friend will forgive him, but he is also working hard to deserve Helen’s love, even if that love must for the time being be platonic and nothing more.
Frederick is especially pleased that Gilbert has promised not to see Helen anymore. As her brother, he thinks this resolution best for both of them. He asks Gilbert to mail a letter to Helen for him. He hasn’t been able to see her since he’s been ill. Gilbert agrees to that and to Frederick’s proposal that he come visit him once in a while.
Frederick wants the best for his sister, and he thinks that this does not include her having upsetting meetings with a man passionately in love with her.