As Hetty continues to churn the butter, she daydreams about Captain Donnithorne and the lifestyle his wealth can afford. Although she is aware that Adam is in love with her, she does not return the affection because she is not attracted to his poor and simple lifestyle. She prefers the dashing figure cut by Captain Donnithorne. Captain Donnithorne and Mr. Irwine ride away from Hall Farm, and Mr. Irwine urges Captain Donnithorne not to encourage Hetty’s vanity. Mr. Irwine also expresses his hope that Adam will marry Mary Burge, the daughter of the carpenter to whom Adam is foreman, because he believes they would make a good match and because the marriage would put Adam in a position to become the carpenter’s partner.
Seth strives to comfort Lisbeth, who grieves for her dead husband to such an extreme that she refuses to clean up or to eat and often expresses her wish that she were dead with him. Dinah comes to visit the Bedes to help Lisbeth in her grief. Although Lisbeth resists Dinah’s kindness at first, she gradually comes around to calling Dinah her daughter and says she loves her very much. Dinah draws Lisbeth out by talking to her of her own childhood. She coaxes Lisbeth to eat, helps clean up around the kitchen, and sleeps with her. Seth is very glad to have Dinah in the house and very much relieved by her ability to calm Lisbeth.
Early in the morning, Adam rises to begin working and he hears Dinah in the kitchen, sweeping and preparing breakfast. He does not know who is in the house because he was asleep when Dinah arrived, and he secretly hopes that it is Hetty. Then he comes into the kitchen and meets Dinah, paying attention to her for the first time. He realizes how beautiful she is and is happy for Seth, who Adam suspects loves Dinah. Dinah blushes under his attentions and turns to pat Gyp, telling Adam that she believes the dog has things to say that he is unable to articulate. Lisbeth insists that Adam be the only person to touch his father’s coffin, so Adam stays home to make the coffin while Seth goes out to work. Dinah comes in to wish Seth a good day and to ask him to walk her home that night. Adam encourages Seth not to lose heart, that someday Dinah may come around to loving him.
Captain Donnithorne dresses for the day and decides not to be at home when Hetty arrives to see the housekeeper. Resolving to go on a trip, he goes to the stable to order his horse ready but learns that she is lame. Then the captain chooses to visit a friend for lunch and not be back until after Hetty has left. After lunch with his friend, he changes his mind about seeing Hetty. Galloping back as fast as he can, Captain Donnithorne tries to catch Hetty when she walks through the woods on the way to the house. He meets her in the woods and speaks with her. When he mentions another of her suitors, Hetty begins to cry, and Captain Donnithorne is so moved by her distress that he puts his arm around her. He quickly recovers himself, however, when Hetty drops her basket, and he rudely and abruptly leaves her, at first vowing not to see her again when she walks back that evening. After thinking alone for an hour, however, Captain Donnithorne decides that he must see her after all, to correct the impression he gave her that afternoon, when he may have seemed to be a lover.
Captain Donnithorne’s inability to control himself and his rationalizations about his relationship with Hetty represent the consequences of bad behavior and carelessness in the novel, but they are portrayed in a manner that makes it hard to dislike Captain Donnithorne. The affair with Hetty is a very human failing, and Eliot’s portrayal of Captain Donnithorne is not vilifying, even though his actions bring about the worst events in the story. Self-control and honesty with oneself are portrayed as important traits in Eliot’s main characters. Unlike Captain Donnithorne and Hetty, Adam and Dinah are both deeply honest with themselves and with everyone else about their motivations and desires, and this characteristic distinguishes them from the minor characters. Captain Donnithorne’s biggest failures are portrayed in a gentle way. The description of his meeting with Hetty is fraught with tenderness, especially in the description of the scenery. Captain Donnithorne’s attempts to seduce Hetty could possibly be seen as despicable. Hetty is, after all, younger, less experienced, and in a socially inferior position to him. It is hard to see Captain Donnithorne as a predator, however, when the first move he makes toward her is to comfort her in response to her tears. The sympathy Eliot engenders for Captain Donnithorne, even as he commits the actions that bring about the crisis of the novel, is consistent with the idea that it is human obligation to love all neighbors with their faults.
The interaction between Adam and Dinah in the Bedes’ kitchen foreshadows their love. Even though Adam makes her aware of her own body, Dinah does not lose her composure, as she will never allow her feelings for Adam to interfere with her feelings for Seth and her compassion for Hetty. The blush and the idea that Dinah can feel as a young woman also add an important component to her character. Her love for Adam, which really starts as more of a crush, makes her a full character, one capable of every human feeling. Adam’s awareness of Dinah’s beauty and his happiness for Seth suggests the way he will eventually come to love her, first as a sister and only later as a lover and wife. Adam’s love for Hetty is foolish, but his love for Dinah redeems him, proving that he can love the better things in a woman and partner. Although his love of Hetty is based in his ability to see the best in her, it is also in no small part because of her beauty. His love of Dinah, by contrast, is based only in her finer qualities. By including this early encounter, Eliot hints at Adam’s burgeoning love for Dinah, which will not come to fruition until the very last chapters of the novel.
The coincidences that keep Captain Donnithorne from getting away from Hetty before their first meeting in the woods constitute the idea of tragedy in the novel. Because Hetty is considered to be within a lower social status than the captain, the reader assumes that a future between the two is doubtful. A series of human errors, mostly on the part of Captain Donnithorne, but also from Adam and the Poysers, combine with the coincidence of a horse’s lameness and a broken arm to set in motion events with undesirable consequences. If any one of those elements had not been present, it is possible that the Hetty and Captain Donnithorne never would have interacted. This collusion of events make fate seem at fault for what is to come instead of the actions of any one of the characters.