On yet another fine day in early summer, Gilbert is hard at work in his fields, working among servants and hired hands to cut the hay. He had hoped to spend all day in such work, but a package arrives from London that he hopes to deliver to Wildfell Hall. He asks Fergus to take his place overseeing the hay-cutting. Fergus does, making a joke of it as he does everything.
Gilbert’s work in this scene is genuinely taxing. This is apparent because he is working alongside his servants. When he asks Fergus to take his place, he asks him only to oversee the activity, not take part. Fergus, therefore, remains idle.
The package is Marmion, a historical romance by Sir Walter Scott, which Gilbert intends to give to Helen Graham. He’s not sure how his gift will be received. He has been working hard to establish firm footing with her as a friend, bringing little Arthur a puppy and a book, and bringing Helen plants from his garden, but he has to be careful not to go too far or strike too romantic a note, as that would Helen to grow serious and withdrawn. Gilbert rushes over to her house, bringing with him a collar for Arthur’s puppy, and meets Helen in the garden. He asks if he might see the progress she’s made of her painting of the bay they recently visited with their friends. She happily obliges, and Gilbert finds the painting beautiful and perfect. Everything is going well until he gives her the book.
Helen and Gilbert share not only a love of natural beauty but an appreciation and hunger for literature. Gilbert’s bringing her the book and the plants from his garden is his way of trying to plant the seeds of love. His infatuation with Helen is made clear by the fact that, when she shows him her painting of the seaside, he finds nothing to criticize, nothing to lecture her about. He has come to respect fully her work as a painter.
Much to Gilbert’s dismay, Helen insists on paying him for it. She will not allow herself to be obligated to him in any way. Gilbert is affronted and angry. When she sees that she has insulted him, she agrees to take the book, but only on the condition that neither is indebted to the other. He insists that he is grateful to her for taking the gift with grace. Leaving her house, Gilbert wants very much to kiss her hand, but he knows such an act would put an end to their friendship forever, so he flees, upset with himself and his own lack of tact, and wishing Helen were easier to understand and less opaque.
Helen’s independence is maddening to Gilbert, who does not see his gift of Marmion as transactional. Given that Linden-Car is insatiably curious about Helen, however, she knows it is best to keep Gilbert at a distance so as not to invite unwanted gossip. Her aloofness only increases Gilbert’s ardor, though—he is at turns drawn to and put off by her mysterious manner.