Mr. Bell had thought of Helstone and could not get it out of his waking mind or his dreams. He met with Lennox and Margaret to hear about Frederick. Margaret was very upset that there was nothing they could do for him, but Lennox reminded her that her brother was happy and safe and had better future prospects where he was now than before in the navy. Margaret agreed that she was being selfish but sighed that she was still very lonely.
That evening Mr. Bell rather awkwardly asked if she might accompany him to Helstone. She kissed his hand and said she would. She promised him that she would not cry a drop at his request.
The next day Margaret and Mr. Bell caught the train to Helstone. They looked out the windows at the passing scenery, and for Margaret, "sharper feelings came shooting through her heart, whether pain or pleasure she could hardly tell. Every mile was redolent of associations, which she would not have missed for the world, but each of which made her cry upon 'the days that are no more,' with ineffable longing."
The travelers stopped at Lennard Arms in the village, where Margaret was happy to see the familiar face of the landlady. She was saddened to hear that Mr. Hale had died. She provided rooms for Mr. Bell and Margaret and updated them on the events of the village. Mrs. Purkis –for that was her name –told them the new Vicar was married and had seven children. He and his wife were "stirring people" and were teetotalers. They were always busy and talked a great deal.
After leaving the inn the two travelers walked a roundabout way to the parsonage. Margaret saw that the old squatter's cottage was now gone. She asked her godfather if they might visit a girl named Susan, but her widowed mother told her Susan was at a local parochial school. The woman mentioned an acrimonious relationship she had with another woman in the town, which shocked Margaret. Margaret decided she would visit Susan at the school.
There they were met by the new Vicar's wife, Mrs. Hepworth, who was friendly but subtly patronizing, in Margaret's opinion. Margaret sat in on one of the lessons and talked to a few of her old favorites. After this she and Mr. Bell finally made their way down to the parsonage at Mrs. Hepworth's invitation. It was "so altered, inside and out, that the real pain was less than she had anticipated. It was not like the same place."
When they left she ruminated on her feelings. She saw that "this visit to Helstone had not been all –had not been exactly what she expected. There was change everywhere; slight, yet pervading all." She missed the old picturesqueness, the gloom, the "grassy wayside of former days."
Later that evening Margaret and Mr. Bell sat together. The girl was quiet and pensive, and finally spoke to Mr. Bell about when Frederick came to visit. She looked up at him suddenly and said "I told a lie." He replied that everyone did that and she must have done so for a good reason but when she pressed upon him that she needed to talk to him about it and ask for his help, his manner changed and he told her to go ahead and talk to him. She told him the whole story about Frederick and Leonards and the latter's death, and how Mr. Thornton knew that she had lied but did not know about Frederick. She bitterly lamented her conduct and the dilemma in which she was placed –"was I to tell him the secrets of our family, involving, as they seemed to, the chances of poor Frederick's entire exculpation?" She asked Mr. Bell if the next time he saw Mr. Thornton, as she was no doubt never to see him again, he would tell the mill owner the whole truth of her conduct, especially since she did not want to lose his respect for her father's sake. Mr. Bell agreed to do this.
Margaret's thoughts ran on about how Mr. Thornton did not have a good opinion of her and was disappointed in her. She felt that not even the explanation could restore his good opinion, not in love or even in respect or high regard. That evening she was melancholy and sat up for hours thinking. She felt herself in a mood that if she were a Roman Catholic she might take to a nunnery and live out her days in a peaceful, unchanging environment.
When she woke the next morning, however, she was refreshed and believed "the progress around me is right and necessary." She put a smile on her face and was determined to be pleasant. On the way home she gathered a stray bit of honeysuckle from the vicarage and marveled at the fact that though it was changed it now seemed more beautiful than she had conceived of it before. She would not want another visit, though, because of its association with earlier days and her father and mother.
Dixon returned from Milton to be Margaret's maid and had much gossip to pass along, which Margaret listened to eagerly. Fanny was married and the wedding was a grand affair even though Mr. Thornton had lost a lot by the strike. The mill owner bought a great deal at the Hale house's sale. Dixon did not have much to say about the Higginses, as she had an "aristocratic bias" but it seemed they were doing well.
Margaret longed for some news of Mr. Bell's visit to Milton but he had clearly not undertaken the journey yet. His letters were somewhat changed –they were a little bitter and discontented, and the man seemed to be suffering from an illness of the spleen. Margaret knew that Mr. Bell did not know how much she truly wanted Mr. Thornton to know the truth, so she said nothing and waited patiently.
Edith said she had heard Mr. Bell mention something about traveling to Spain to visit Frederick while he was at the Harley Street house last. Margaret sized on this idea and found it very pleasing. It took her mind off of Mr. Thornton. She was also spending a lot of time with Edith and the Captain's son; he was quite taken with her and their encounters made Margaret sad that she would never experience this feeling for herself. Mr. Lennox continued to come around their society, and Margaret found him colder and more brilliant than before. Their former awkwardness melted away to a degree, and their conversation was pleasing to each other. Margaret noticed that Henry seemed to be derisive of his brother and his sister-in-law and saw their life as frivolous.
The frequent dinner parties resumed, but the lovely people and vibrant conversation was still unsatisfying to Margaret. She felt that the people were superficial and false and that "even every tendency towards virtue, was used up as material for fireworks."
There was no knowledge of Mr. Bell going to Milton for some time, but finally Margaret received a letter that her godfather was going to come up to see her next week about a plan he had in his head and to address his ill health. Margaret felt the letter had a "forced cheerfulness" about it.
Mr. Bell never showed up when he was supposed to, however. The next morning a letter came from his servant, Wallis, saying that his master was very ill and might not last the night. Edith burst into tears and Margaret was silent and stricken. She resolved to take the immediate train to Oxford but Edith said she should wait and talk to her aunt about going. This made Margaret miss the train but she took the next one with Captain Lennox as her escort for propriety. Mr. Bell had died during the night but she was always to be contented that she made the trip to see him and say goodbye. On the trip home Margaret marveled at how these woes seemed to supersede each other and re-open wounds that were scarcely healed. She stayed up late that night in her room, ruminating on her sin of falsehood and how she must learn to pray in life and not trust only to her own will. She saw it as just penance that the reasons for her sin should never be known to the one "in whose opinion it had sunk her lowest." She resolved from henceforth to "have the strength and act the truth for evermore."
Neither chapter XLVI or XLVII were included in the Household Words serialization of North and South, but were included in the 1855 publication of the book. One critic wrote that the inclusion of these two chapters was "an attempt to restore the balance of the novel by dwelling upon its southern aspects" (from an article by Jeffrey Jackson, quoting Dorothy Collin).
Margaret used to consider Helstone in a very idealized manner. She admitted no shortcomings, and saw it as an idyllic, pastoral paradise where social problems, illness, class strife, and death did not intrude. In Milton she vehemently defended the merits of the South and of Helstone. However, her time in Milton and her return to Helstone leave her with a very different impression of the place she once called home. First, she noted all of the changes –it was simply not the same. The rustic squatter's cottage was gone, there was a new Vicar who was very different than Mr. Hale and was spearheading many alterations and changes, and old trees had been pulled down. When Margaret went to the schoolhouse and was asked by the Vicar's wife to give a small lesson, it became evident that her education was now outdated and irrelevant.
Margaret is also shocked to discover that Helstone is a place of "primitive superstition and cruelty," as Patricia Ingham notes in her annotations to the Penguin edition of the novel. The neighbor woman's story about her cat derived with pagan sacrifices of human beings and animals; the burning of cats was supposed to bring good luck and was practiced up until at least the 17th century in Paris on Midsummer Day. Margaret had always conceived of the South as a place where learning and education were valued. She touted the region's superiority and gentility as compared to the coarseness and pragmatism of Milton life. This scene, albeit a very small one, indicates how wrong Margaret was. Her prejudices were deeply engrained and have now been threatened.
Despite the mixture of pain and pleasure Margaret felt at returning to a place where she was happy and untaxed by poverty, death, or social struggles, she was not as depressed as she thought she might be. Even when she visited her father's parsonage, Margaret saw that it "was so altered, inside and out, that the real pain was less than she had anticipated" (383). She saw that change had come to Helstone and it was not the same place she left. She missed the "old picturesqueness, the old gloom, and the grassy wayside of former days" (384).
When it finally came time to depart, "the place was reinvested with the old enchanting atmosphere. The common sounds of life were more musical there than anywhere else in the whole world, the light more golden, the life more tranquil and full of dreamy delight" (391). Helstone was to live on in her memory, representative of former days. That life was not to be had anymore, but Margaret was finally at peace with that reality.