Gilbert and Rose pay their promised visit to Wildfell Hall and find Helen in the middle of painting a landscape. Little Arthur informs Gilbert and Rose that Helen sells her paintings through a London dealer. When Gilbert asks Helen why she has misnamed a painting that is obviously of the grounds of Wildfell Hall, she explains that she needs to hide her identity and her whereabouts from certain friends who might try to track her down. Gilbert then tries to steer the conversation into safer territory, and he and Helen talk briefly about a nearby hike that leads to the ocean. As Gilbert goes into the details of how to find her way, Helen cuts him off and says she won’t be able to attempt such a journey until the spring. She then leaves the room to meet a visitor, whom Arthur identifies only as her “friend.”
The mystery of Helen’s past and present deepen with the discovery that she is a talented and dedicated artist—and also that she feels the need to hide her identity. Helen’s employment as an artist sets her apart from the other women of the parish, none of whom has a paying profession. Talk of the ocean hike shows that she and Gilbert have something very important in common: a love of nature.
Gilbert glances through the paintings stacked along the studio wall, finding one that is clearly of little Arthur as a baby and another of a handsome and vain-looking red-headed man. Gilbert surmises that, if Helen is indeed the artist behind the portrait of the young man, that she completed it several years earlier. While an excellent and, he believes, faithful portrait, it does not display the confidence and ease of her later work. Helen returns from talking with her friend and when Gilbert asks her about the painting’s provenance, she rebukes him. Gilbert is again turned off by her cold treatment of him. Soon, though, she apologizes, and he is won over by that small gesture.
Despite his own lack of artistic talent, Gilbert feels himself qualified to pass judgement on Helen’s paintings, just as he felt himself justified in judging her parenting. He does not shy away from prying into her past, either. When Helen understandingly reacts with displeasure at the intrusion, Gilbert again reacts defensively. She is being unfair, he decides. When, however, she does the feminine thing and apologizes, he forgives her.