Captain Wentworth has come to stay at Kellynch for an extended length of time. He makes frequent trips to Uppercross to visit the Musgroves. Charles Hayter, who is a cousin of the Musgroves and a suitor of Henrietta's, is disturbed to come back from his short trip to find Captain Wentworth so much a favorite of his cousin.
The narrator then gives background on the Hayters. Mrs. Hayter and Mrs. Musgrove are sisters, but their marriages have made a material difference in their "degree of consequence." The Hayters have an "inferior, retired and unpolished" way of living, being not so educated as the Musgroves, but there is little discord between the two amiable families. The Musgroves will not oppose a match between Henrietta and Charles Hayter if it makes her happy, but Mary thinks it a very degrading alliance for her sister-in-law.
Both Musgrove sisters seem to like Captain Wentworth, however, and the family turns to speculating which sister he will choose. Charles Hayter is quite upset at the change in Henrietta's responses toward his advances.
One morning, Captain Wentworth walks into a room while looking for the Miss Musgroves, and finds himself in a room alone with Anne and the invalid little boy. After a few awkward moments, Charles Hayter joins them, increasing the tension. The younger boy, Walter, comes in the room and starts teasing Anne; she cannot get him to disentangle himself from her. Charles Hayter tells the boy to get off his aunt, but he does not listen. Before she knows what is going on, Captain Wentworth has removed the boy from her shoulders. She is so stunned that she is unable to thank him. Later, she is grateful for his assistance, yet ashamed for being so nervous.
Anne's observations make her believe that Captain Wentworth is not in love with either of the Musgrove sisters, but is just accepting and enjoying their attentions. Charles Hayter, feeling slighted by Henrietta, ceases to come to Uppercross after a few days.
In the morning, the Miss Musgroves stop by the cottage to announce that they are going for a long walk. Though it is clear they do not want Mary to join them, she insists on going along. When the gentlemen arrive, they all decide to go on a walk together and the party consists of the two Miss Musgroves, Captain Wentworth, Mary, Anne, and Charles Musgrove. Anne's intention is to stay as out of the way as possible and just to enjoy the landscape and the day. Louisa flirts with Captain Wentworth throughout the walk and declares that if she loved a man, nothing should ever separate them.
The party makes their way to Winthrop, the home of the Hayters. Mary wants to turn around immediately, as she does not approve of associating with people of such low connection, but Charles insists on calling on his aunt; he and Henrietta visit the Hayters. While Charles and Henrietta are gone, the rest of the group looks for seats in the woods. Mary is never satisfied because she thinks Louisa must have found a better seat somewhere else. Louisa pulls Captain Wentworth aside and they talk of firmness of character; Louisa has convinced Henrietta to visit Charles, though Henrietta would have turned back from her decided destination. Captain Wentworth compares strength of character to the "happiness" of a hazelnut that has not yet dropped off the tree. The conversation continues and Louisa remarks that Mary sometimes bothers her excessively with her "Elliot pride."
Louisa tells Captain Wentworth that Charles wanted to marry Anne before Mary, but that Anne refused him. Captain Wentworth seems very interested in this piece of information. When Henrietta returns to the group, she brings Charles Hayter with her. It is now very clear that Louisa is meant for Captain Wentworth, and Henrietta for Charles.
On the walk back home, they pass Admiral and Mrs. Croft who are out in their carriage for a ride. Guessing that Anne might be tired, Captain Wentworth arranges for the Crofts to give her a ride home; Anne appreciates the kind gesture. The Crofts tell her that they hope Captain Wentworth will settle down with a nice girl soon. Anne notices that the Crofts share the reins and the responsibility of driving; Mrs. Croft steers them around posts and ruts. Anne observes that this is representative of the symbiotic way they run their marriage.
While most of Jane Austen's novels end in marriage, few of her works provide examples of couples with long and healthy relationships. Admiral and Mrs. Croft are an exception to this rule. Austen provides them as an example of a perfect marriage. The couple cannot bear to be apart; they are constantly together, even at sea. The drive home illustrates the way their marriage runs. While Admiral Croft drives the carriage most of the time, Mrs. Croft not infrequently grabs the reins to steer them around posts, ruts, and obstacles. Their relationship is symbiotic, each depending on the other for their happiness. Such a vision is extraordinarily progressive for the time. The idea of separate spheres and responsibilities for men and women is destroyed in the Crofts' marriage. Because they do everything together, they take equal joy in going to sea and in fixing a creaky door in their home. Such an equal partnership was a very forward-looking vision for the generally conservative Austenian world.