The story resumes in England, after Lucy has returned from her Italian trip to her home, called Windy Corner. There, Lucy’s brother Freddy is examining a bone and reading an anatomy manual, while Lucy’s mother Mrs. Honeychurch is writing a letter in the drawing room. They are discussing Lucy and a man named Cecil Vyse, who is about to propose to Lucy for the third time. Mrs. Honeychurch is glad that Cecil is trying again, while Freddy says he feels uncomfortable with the situation, since Lucy has already tried to reject Cecil.
Unlike the sudden kiss with George, Lucy’s relationship with Cecil doesn’t exactly happen naturally—he has to propose to her three times. While Mrs. Honeychurch and Freddy let Lucy make her own decision, she is not completely independent of them, as they eagerly look on and await her decision. Cecil’s last name—Vyse—suggests the way that he constrains Lucy.
Mrs. Honeychurch is writing to Cecil’s mother—Mrs. Vyse, of the same family that Lucy visited in Rome—and comments on how she was surprised that Cecil had asked her permission to propose to Lucy, because she always thought of Cecil as unconventional. Freddy says that Cecil also asked his permission, which Mrs. Honeychurch finds odd. She peers out a window to spy on Cecil and Lucy, who are talking outside.
From the aged Mrs. Honeychurch’s perspective, Cecil is unconventional, but from the point of view of Lucy or Freddy this may not be the case. Cecil is very deliberate about his proposal, asking permission, unlike George who acted impulsively on his feelings and kissed Lucy without warning.
Freddy tells his mother that when Cecil asked his permission for the proposal, he also asked Freddy if he thought the marriage would be a good thing. Freddy answered honestly, saying no. This irritates Mrs. Honeychurch, who reminds Freddy of “all that has passed between them [Lucy and Cecil] in Rome,” and says she likes Cecil, because “he’s good, he’s clever, he’s rich, he’s well connected.” Freddy says that he doesn’t like Cecil, but can’t quite figure out why. He says it might have something to do with something Mr. Beebe said, about Cecil being “detached.”
Freddy answered Cecil honestly, even though it meant a bit of social awkwardness. Mrs. Honeychurch would have preferred him to prioritize manners over the truth in this case. She thinks of Cecil as a good husband for Lucy because of his wealth and social status, not considering whether Lucy actually loves him or not.
Freddy tries to discern what it is about Cecil that he dislikes, as Mrs. Honeychurch looks over her letter, in which she tells Mrs. Vyse that she would be pleased for Lucy and Cecil to marry. But, she says to Freddy, “in these days young people must decide for themselves.” In the letter, Mrs. Honeychurch tells Mrs. Vyse that Lucy likes Cecil. As she is finishing her letter, Cecil enters the room. The narrator describes Cecil as “medieval” and “like a Gothic statue.”
Mrs. Honeychurch wistfully realizes that times have changed, and that young people now have greater power to make their own decisions in terms of love. But times haven’t changed completely—Cecil, for example, is a somewhat old-fashioned character, as Forster’s description of him suggests.
Cecil informs Mrs. Honeychurch (first in Italian, then in English) that Lucy has accepted his marriage proposal, and both she and Freddy congratulate him. Lucy enters and Cecil suggests that she go into the garden with her mother and brother to tell them about the proposal. As they leave, Cecil thinks over his history with Lucy: he saw her when she came to Rome and thought she was “a typical tourist—shrill, crude, and gaunt with travel.” But gradually, he became interested in her and thought she “was like a woman of Leonardo da Vinci’s.”
The relationship between Cecil and Lucy is a stark contrast to her past sudden, passionate relationship with George. Cecil is careful and deliberate, and only became interested in Lucy gradually. Cecil admires Lucy’s beauty, but his comparison of her to a painting is also subtly sexist: he does not recognize her as a full person, but sees her as an object of art.
In Rome, Cecil hinted to Lucy that they should marry, and she declined. He proposed again “among the flower-clad Alps,” and she again rejected him. But this time, she accepted his offer, and Cecil happily plans to write a letter to his mother. He thinks about Lucy’s country society around Windy Corner, and decides that “he ought to introduce her into more congenial circles as soon as possible.”
Again, Cecil is very deliberate and cautious in his approach to Lucy, unlike George. Just like George’s kiss, his attempt at a romantic scene takes place among beautiful natural scenery, though Cecil seems to admire that beauty too as a kind of picture rather than truly feeling its natural beauty. Although Lucy’s family is well-off, Cecil still looks down on the rural society around their home.
Mr. Beebe arrives and tells Cecil that he has come “for tea and for gossip.” He shares the news that a man named Sir Harry Otway has bought two nearby villas. Cecil is uninterested in such “local affairs.” Mr. Beebe asks what Cecil’s profession is, and Cecil says he has none. (Because he is so well-off, he doesn’t need one.) The two men continue to make small-talk and finally bond a bit over joking about the bad service provided by the servants at Windy Hill.
Cecil continues to look down rather snobbishly at the country society around Windy Corner. He is so wealthy he doesn’t need a job—a type becoming less and less common as the 20th century moves forward. Mr. Beebe is less conceited than Cecil, but he is also privileged enough to make fun of the servants.
Mr. Beebe and Cecil talk about Lucy. Mr. Beebe says that he made a drawing in Florence, with Lucy represented by a kite and Charlotte holding the string. He says the symbolic string of the kite never broke, and Cecil says, “It has broken now.” He tells Mr. Beebe of his new engagement. Mr. Beebe apologizes for talking about Lucy “in this flippant, superficial way.” He says that he knew in Florence that Lucy would eventually “take some momentous step,” and now she has taken it.
Mr. Beebe’s drawing straightforwardly symbolizes how Lucy was under the control of Charlotte in Florence. He and Cecil see Lucy’s engagement as a step toward independence, but in becoming engaged to Cecil, Lucy may simply be entering under someone else’s control and influence, breaking free of one string only to be tied to another.
Freddy and Mrs. Honeychurch enter, and both are excited about the engagement. The narrator quips that “an engagement is so potent a thing that sooner or later it reduces all who speak of it to this state of cheerful awe.” Everyone at Windy Corner cannot help but feel happy about the engagement, and they sit down for “a very pleasant tea-party.”
Freddy has his reservations about Cecil, but he and Mrs. Honeychurch show good manners in being so cheerful about the matter. Freddy is not so much lying as simply being carried away with the excitement of the long-standing tradition of marriage.