Book the Third: Garnering
In the morning, Louisa receives visits from her younger sister Jane, and then from her father. Gradgrind is devastated by what Louisa told him the previous evening. It seems to him as if the whole foundation of his life, the system on which he lived, has been swept away. He assures his daughter that he had meant to do right, but now he mistrusts his own ability to help her. After Gradgrind leaves, Louisa is visited by Sissy. The two women rekindle their friendship, which had gone cold after Louisa married Bounderby.
Harthouse is agitated by Louisa's failure to turn up at his hotel. The next day he tries to find out where she is, without success. Then Sissy comes to visit him. She tells him that he has no chance of ever seeing Louisa again, although she emphasizes that Louisa has not sent her to say this. She also tells him that he must leave Coketown immediately and never return, since that is the only way he can mitigate the harm he has done. Harthouse admits he is to blame for the situation and reluctantly accedes to Sissy's request. He leaves Coketown later that day.
Mrs. Sparsit has told Bounderby about the conversation she overheard between Louisa and Harthouse, and he takes her immediately to see Gradgrind. But Gradgrind says he already knows the story, and hastens to add that Louisa came straight to him for protection. Bounderby rebukes Mrs. Sparsit and sends her back to the bank. Gradgrind tells Bounderby that he would like Louisa to stay with him, Gradgrind, for a while, attended by Sissy. Bounderby is furious and says, among other things, that Louisa does not appreciate his merits. Gradgrind tries to speak to Bounderby in a reasonable tone, asking that he cooperate in helping Louisa to recover, but Bounderby gets more and more angry. Eventually he issues an ultimatum: unless Louisa returns to his house by noon the next day, he will assume that she prefers to remain at her father's, and he will send her belongings along. The next day, since Louisa has not returned, he does exactly what he promised. He then puts his country house up for sale and resumes a bachelor life.
Bounderby offers a reward for the arrest of Stephen Blackpool in connection with the bank robbery. Posters are put all around Coketown to this effect. Slackbridge, the union delegate, uses this to once more denounce Stephen at a meeting. Meanwhile, Bounderby, Tom and Rachel go to see Louisa. Rachel gets Louisa to confirm that she, Louisa, visited Stephen before his departure and gave him money. Bounderby had disbelieved Rachel's story about this but is now forced to acknowledge its truth. Rachel says she has written to Stephen, and she expects him to return to Coketown within two days to clear his name. After the visitors have gone, Louisa tells her father that she believes Stephen to be innocent.
Over a week passes, but Stephen does not return. No one knows of his whereabouts.
As Gradgrind continues to soften, and to see the inadequacy of the principles of reason he has lived by, he succinctly expresses one of the main themes of the novel. The moment comes when he tells Louisa in the first chapter of book 3, "Some persons hold. . . that there is a wisdom of the Head, and that there is a wisdom of the Heart." Up to this point, he has not believed this to be true; he had thought the head sufficient, but now he knows that it may not be.
In these chapters, Sissy, who knows the wisdom of the heart, emerges as probably the strongest, most balanced of the characters in Gradgrind's world. She seems to have been able to resist the bad influence of the education she received and the emotionally stifled atmosphere of the Gradgrind home. She is naturally connected to the values of the heart. It is this that gives her the strength to confront Harthouse and insist that he comply with her wishes.