On a beautiful spring day, while Gilbert is out inspecting his lambs, he runs into Fergus, Rose, and Eliza, who are on their way to Wildfell Hall. Fergus, who’s heard much of Helen but has yet to meet her, is hoping to learn more about the mysterious stranger who has recently moved to the parish. Gilbert takes Eliza’s arm and tells Fergus he can leave now—Gilbert will watch over the ladies. Fergus replies that the visit was his idea in the first place and he has no intention to forgo the pleasure of snooping about Helen’s home. Rose and Eliza contend that there is room in their party for both of them.
Weather often mimics mood in the novel, and acts as a predictor or reflection of Gilbert and Helen’s prospects for happiness in any given scene. The beautiful day here then suggests that this could be a productive visit for Gilbert. Fergus’s flippant attitude underscores his laziness and the emptiness of his days—as the eldest son, Gilbert must devote much of his time to work, whereas Fergus is free to roam about the countryside.
Gilbert and the rest find Helen and little Arthur together in a relatively cheerful sitting room. Arthur is reading aloud to Helen, and Gilbert admires the pretty picture that mother and son make. Gilbert senses that Helen is not overjoyed to see them, and he retreats to a corner with Arthur and Sancho while Rose, Eliza, and Fergus try to draw Helen out. Fergus in particular peppers Helen with questions, trying hard to get her to talk more about her life before Wildfell Hall, saying that the natives of the parish, who are like indigenous plants, are very curious about such an “exotic species” as Helen. Helen will only say that she is an Englishwoman from the middle of the country.
Now that Gilbert is more acquainted with Helen, he finds her beauty more to his taste. The firmness he found off-putting is softened by the presence of her son. Still, she is a mystery to many, and Fergus’s suggestion that Helen is an exotic flower among drab houseplants is a reminder of the smallness of village life. It is also another example of how much of Linden-Car sees Helen as foreign “other.”
Fergus then pressures Helen on why she would choose to move to such a gloomy, out-of-the-way house as Wildfell Hall. Doesn’t she long to see people and be in the thick of village life? Helen says she enjoys her solitude, and while she welcomes friends, she does not need a large acquaintance to make her daily life pleasurable. She flees to the corner to talk to Gilbert, asking him if he might remind her how to find the view of the sea they discussed some days earlier when he and Rose visited her studio. She longs to paint it. Overhearing her, Rose suggests they all make the journey together, and while Helen obviously wishes she could go alone, she agrees.
Helen’s desire to be left alone will clearly not be respected or valued in a village full of young people with very little to occupy their time. She and Gilbert continue to bond over their mutual love of the natural world. Helen’s appreciation of beauty is not idle, though. She wants to paint it and then sell those paintings, so she can afford to support herself and her child. To the others in the room, a visit to the seaside would be nothing more than an excursion for pleasure.
Weeks pass, and finally a day arrives fine enough to justify an excursion to the coast. Flowers are in bloom, and everything is verdant and lovely. The party consists of Gilbert, Fergus, and Rose Markham; Mary and Eliza Millward; Richard Wilson; and Arthur (Jr.) and Helen Graham. Gilbert tried to persuade Mr. Lawrence to come, but he declined when he heard Helen would be there. Gilbert thinks his behavior odd, but soon forgets it in the pleasures of the day. He particularly enjoys the walk to the coast, because he has Helen almost to himself. Eliza is riding in the carriage and, happy to not have to entertain her, Gilbert gives himself over to the bracing conversation of Helen, hoping to win her good opinion.
The weather again foretells a pleasant time for Gilbert and Helen. In point of fact, it is so beautiful and marked with signs of fertility and renewal, that it seems to be blessing their union. Gilbert continues his double dealings with Helen and Eliza, but he doesn’t let the matter trouble him. Helen’s wit and depth are winning him over day by day, and his growing love for her helps him justify his behavior.
Eventually they reach the precipice that affords a view of the ocean, and Gilbert is struck by the wild, untamed beauty of the sea and how it is reflected in the beauty of Helen Graham. He is so taken with her at that moment that he is tempted to do something daring, something dangerous, but Rose interrupts his thoughts by calling everyone to lunch.
Gilbert respects and admires Helen’s intelligence, but it is her wild beauty that nearly overcomes him. He gazes on her at this moment as if she were a painting and not a person.
It is a merry meal and Gilbert is again happy, even though this time he finds himself near Eliza Millward and separated from Helen Graham, who later leaves the party to paint the sea. Gilbert grows so weary with Eliza’s empty flirtatiousness that he goes in search of Helen, who does not hide the fact that she is unhappy to see him. He tries to make himself agreeable to her by remaining at a distance and commenting sparingly on her work. He can’t help stealing glances at her, though, and thinks that if he had her skill, he could paint a portrait of her that would be even lovelier than her sketch of the ocean.
When Helen leaves the party to paint the sea, she clearly wants to be alone. She needs solitude to complete her work, but Gilbert’s passion for her is such that he cannot seem to let her be. His fleeting thought that if he were an artist, he could paint a portrait of Helen that would rival any of her creations is born of a need to possess her. The more she works and lives independently of him, the less power he has.
Helen ignores Gilbert for the most part and focuses on her painting, but she does consult him on a detail, and even goes so far as to take his advice. They walk back to the lunch spot, where Mary is watching over little Arthur with Richard Wilson, who is absorbed in an academic text of some sort. Gilbert wonders at Richard: why is he always so focused on his studies? But Mary, whom Gilbert suspects of being in love with Richard, does not seem to mind.
Helen’s willingness to take Gilbert’s advice in regard to her seascape reveals that she has thawed considerably toward Gilbert. And Gilbert’s thoughts about Richard Wilson’s studiousness show that, while Gilbert might work harder than Fergus, he is still more idle than men not fortunate enough to inherit property.
Everyone heads back to the parish, but the journey home is not as pleasurable for Gilbert, because Helen has decided to ride with the others in the carriage and he is now in charge of shepherding Eliza home. He picks up on Eliza’s jealousy of Helen, but, instead of being catty or bitter, Eliza is merely quiet and downcast, and Gilbert is consumed with guilt. Once back at Wildfell Hall, he offers to help Helen cart her painting supplies to her studio. She refuses his help, but in such a warm way he almost forgives her.
Gilbert must now suffer for the crime of dallying with a young woman’s feelings. His sufferings are not extreme, however. He still has the pleasure of seeing Helen at the end of the day. Helen displeases him by asserting her own independence, but, when she tempers her independent spirit with femininity, he is almost appeased.