On a “Saturday afternoon, gay and brilliant after abundant rains,” Mr. Beebe and Freddy pay the Emersons a visit. They go into the Emersons’ villa, looking for them, and examine the Emersons’ things, including many books. Mr. Beebe asks Freddy how Lucy enjoyed her stay in London, and Freddy says that Lucy is closer than ever to Cecil.
The beauty of the natural world sets the stage for a scene of freedom and glee to follow (at the Sacred Lake). As Freddy says, Lucy and Cecil are gradually becoming closer, though their relationship lacks the immediate spark that was evident between Lucy and George.
Freddy tells Mr. Beebe that Cecil “is teaching Lucy Italian,” and that he is worried Lucy will become smarter than he is, as “she will read all kind of books,” with Cecil. George enters, looking like his “face wanted washing,” and Freddy asks if George wants to go for a swim. Mr. Beebe laughs at this quick invitation to “have a bathe,” and says that it would only happen between men. He adds, “And yet you will tell me that the sexes are equal.”
Lucy is no longer under the tutelage of Charlotte, but is still not independent, as Cecil is now educating and influencing her. Mr. Beebe still believes in prevalent traditional notions about the differences between the sexes, which for him preclude equality between men and women.
Mr. Emerson, just entering the room, says that men and women will be equal, and says that the Garden of Eden “is really yet to come.” He says that “when we no longer despise our bodies,” when the sexes are equal, and when people truly discover nature, mankind will attain a kind of utopian existence like that of the Garden of Eden.
By contrast, Mr. Emerson represents a new wave of progressivism, believing in equality for women. His utopian vision of future society is centered around the beauty of the natural world, suggested by the Biblical image of the Garden of Eden.
Freddy tells Mr. Emerson that he will call on him later (a long-standing social tradition of visiting someone and leaving a calling card), and Mr. Emerson laughs at the old-fashioned custom, calling it “drawing-room twaddle.” But Mr. Beebe insists on the practice, and tells Mr. Emerson to return calls within a ten-day window. Freddy, George, and Mr. Beebe leave to go to the Sacred Lake for a swim.
Mr. Emerson again shows his distaste for what he sees as senseless social customs. In his disagreement with Mr. Beebe, one sees the conflict of old and new ideas at this moment in British society. Having just discussed the Garden of Eden, Freddy, George, and Mr. Beebe now make for their own miniature natural paradise.
On the way, Mr. Beebe comments on the coincidence of the Emersons meeting Lucy in Florence and then ending up so near to Windy Corner. George says that it is fate, as “everything is fate.” Mr. Beebe disagrees, and says that George first met Lucy in Florence, and then ran into Cecil at the National Gallery, looking at Italian art. He says that an interest in “things Italian,” has brought the Emersons together with the Honeychurches. The three men arrive at the Sacred Lake, and Freddy and George disrobe and prepare to swim.
While George believes in fate, Mr. Beebe suggests that the Emersons and the Honeychurches have been brought together essentially by aesthetic means: by shared interests in the beauty of art and “things Italian.” Freddy and George’s disrobing may represent leaving behind the conventions of society and rejoining a state of nature.
Mr. Beebe stays out of the water at first, but both George and Freddy tell him that the “water’s wonderful.” Mr. Beebe sees no one else around and notices “water, sky, evergreens, a wind.” Admiring all the nature around him, he takes off his clothes and jumps in the water. The three start to play, splash each other, and run around the pond and through “the willow-herbs and in the bracken.” Freddy and George are “delirious,” with fun.
The beauty of the outdoors around him spurs Mr. Beebe to drop his worries and experience careless freedom and fun. This scene, reminiscent of the Garden of Eden, suggests a kind of utopia free from the restrictions of society.
Suddenly, Mr. Beebe alerts George and Freddy that people are coming by. Mrs. Honeychurch, Cecil, and Lucy happen to be walking through the woods. They see the three men, who then run off into the woods or back into the water. Cecil leads Lucy and her mother away, feeling “that he must lead women, though he knew not whither, and protect them, though he knew not against what.”
The men’s beautiful, natural utopia is short-lived, though, and after a brief escape from the constrictive norms of society, they must return to their normal social lives. Cecil feels an obligation to protect women, without seeing if they really need protection first.
Mrs. Honeychurch is not shocked, though, and tells the three to dry off before coming inside, so as not to get a cold. After putting some clothes on, George, “barefoot, bare-chested, radiant and personable against the shadowy woods,” says hello to Lucy, and Mrs. Honeychurch tells her to bow in return. She bows awkwardly. That night, the pool—which had swelled to a greater size with rainwater—“shrunk to its old size and lost its glory,” becoming again nothing but a little pond.
Despite Cecil’s attempt to protect Mrs. Honeychurch, she needs no such help. George continues to disregard social norms, greeting Lucy without a shirt on. For Lucy, this may associate him with the freedom and beauty of nature. Her socially conditioned bow is an awkward response to his carefree greeting. The shrinking of the Sacred Lake represents the fleeting nature of brief escapes from society.