As he leaves, Henry tells Edith that he'll be returning the following day with Mr. Thornton to discuss his giving up his lease with Margaret. But when the time comes, Henry is a no-show. Mr. Thornton arrives on time for the meeting and is ushered into the drawing room, but there's no sign of Henry. Margaret delays going downstairs for an hour, hoping that Henry is just running late, but eventually gives up and enters the drawing room. The reason for Henry's absence is open for debate: it's possible that he didn't want to be present to witness the woman he's in love with- or at least, in like with- reconciling with his rival for her affections. Although 'rival' isn't the correct term to use... there was really no contest. But it's also possible that Henry thought that leaving the two of them alone would allow them to express their true feelings. Or it could be a combination of both those things; whatever his motivations, it does indeed get them to speak freely, though at first this seems in doubt.
North & South is- obviously- a romance, but not just a romance. It is also a book which examines through it's characters and events the Industrial Revolution: it's pros and cons and it's effects, both positive and negative. It also compares the north of England, where this industrialisation was mainly taking place, with the south, where the system was still mainly that of landowners and tenant farmers. The conclusion of North & South is that, though there were of course some downsides, the Industrial Revolution was, for the poorer classes in England, by and large a good thing. It allowed for the first time upward mobility, higher living standards, and greater educational and economic chances to people who had rarely had access to these advantages before.
North & South also draws attention to the rise of worker's unions which accompanied the formation of mills and factories, and in a remarkably even-handed way. Through Nicholas Higgins and the other hands, we see why the union became necessary, yet we also see the abuses it perpetrated and the sometimes shortsighted actions it took through ignorance or desperation. Through Thornton and the other mill owners, we get a look at the disdain masters frequently had for the hands, leading them to eschew explaining their actions to the workers. We also see some of them- not Thornton- cutting corners and being callous about workers' safety, leading to injuries and sickness. But Gaskell also shows the desperate position that the owners are in: the economy has taken a downturn, the market is being flooded with cheap cotton from America, and given the option of increasing the workers' wages as demanded or staying in business, they made the only decision possible.
Finally, North & South provides many great studies in human nature. None of the characters in this book are impossibly good or unbelievably evil; they are believable people with virtues and vices, strengths and weaknesses. Mr. Hale, for example, is a weak and often ineffectual man, unable to face the harsh realities of life. He's also, however, a compassionate and caring person, capable of seeing worth in both a self-made mill owner with a chip on his shoulder, and an angry, grieving, slightly tipsy mill hand (also with a chip on his shoulder) and of being a good friend to both. Through the events in the novel, we see the depths and divisions to which people can be brought, by tragedy or personal failure, but we also see that these things can strengthen peoples' characters and bring them together. All in all, it is a great novel, one that I have read several times.