Paul realizes that he loves his mother more than Miriam, and Miriam seems also to realize that their relationship will never deepen. One day Paul comes to call and is unusually irritable. When Miriam begs him to tell her what is the matter, he tells her that they had better break off. She does not understand why, and he tries to tell her that, even though they have agreed that they are to be friends, “it neither stops there, nor gets anywhere else.” She finally understands that he is telling her that he does not love her and wants to leave her free for another man.
Miriam feels that he is mistaken and that deep in his soul he loves her, and she is angry with him for listening to his mother, who has told him that he cannot go on in the same way unless he means to become engaged. She is angry that he lets his mother and his family tell him what he should do, thinking that she wishes the outside world would let the two of them alone.
Paul misses Willey Farm when he does not go there to call on Miriam, so he continues to go there to be with Edgar and the rest of the family. He no longer spends much time alone with Miriam, but one night he ends up alone with her when Edgar stays for Communion with Mrs. Morel. They are discussing the sermon and he reads to her from the Bible, and they almost attain their previous level of harmony—until Paul begins to feel uncomfortable.
Miriam invites Paul to come to the farm one day to meet Clara Dawes. He accepts and is excited to meet her. He arrives, meets her in the parlor, talks to her and Miriam for a short time, and quickly decides that he does not like her. He goes to meet Edgar on his way back from getting coal. He tells Edgar that Clara should be called ‘Nevermore’ because she is so disagreeable.
Later, Miriam asks Paul to accompany the two women on a walk. They meet Miss Limb and her horse, and Clara especially is very fond of the horse. After they leave, Paul and Miriam mention that they both feel there is something strange about Miss Limb, and Clara suggests that she wants a man.
Clara walks a little ahead, and Miriam asks Paul if he still finds her disagreeable. He replies that something is the matter with her, and she agrees. They arrive at a field of wildflowers, and enjoy it together. Paul and Miriam pick flowers, and Clara says she doesn’t like to pick them because she doesn’t want the corpses around her. Paul argues that it is sufficient reason that he likes and wants the flowers and that there are plenty of them, and Miriam says that the spirit in which the flowers are picked is what matters. When Clara bends forward to smell the flowers, Paul scatters cowslips over her hair and neck.
Paul takes his mother to Lincoln to see the cathedral, and he becomes worried about her when she cannot climb the hill because of her heart. He laments the fact that his mother is old and ill and that he was not the eldest son, and his mother tells him that she is only a bit old and not really ill.
At this time Annie is engaged to Leonard, who has a talk with Mrs. Morel because he wants to get married right away. She cautions him that neither he nor Annie has much money, and he tells her that he realizes that, but he still wants to marry Annie right away. She trusts him, as she tells Paul, and so the wedding takes place immediately.
Mrs. Morel decides to buy Arthur out of the army, at which he is overjoyed. He comes home and takes up with Beatrice Wyld.
Paul writes Miriam a letter attempting to explain what has happened in their love, and we are told that this is the end of the first phase of Paul’s romantic endeavors.
The main significant event in this chapter is that Paul returns to his mother’s love, re-asserting her place as his closest loved one. He decides to abandon his affair with Miriam because his mother is more important, and he also strongly insists that he will not marry and leave his mother.
It is also significant because it contains the first real meeting between Paul and Clara. Although their friendship does not really begin until later, this is their first important point of contact.
Clara, who is portrayed as a feminist and a man-hater, makes a surprising remark that Miss Limb wants a man. This suggests that she might not be as feminist as she thinks she is, something that Paul also observes.