Lucy is bored with the conversation she just had with Miss Alan and Mr. Beebe. She desires “something big,” and wants to ride the tram, but decides not to because it would be “unladylike.” She remembers that Charlotte advised her that women’s “mission was to inspire others to achievement rather than to achieve themselves.” The narrator says that this traditional idea of a “medieval lady” has lived on in Victorian society, but that women now have “strange desires” and want to see the world and take action just like men.
While Lucy reacts to some degree against the sexism of traditional society, epitomized by Miss Alan, she is no rebel: she is still held back by considerations of proper female behavior, as Charlotte has taught her. The narrator suggests, though, that times are changing, and young women like Lucy are starting to rise up out of the narrowly prescribed roles that they have been traditionally given.
The narrator reflects that while Lucy is impatient with the restrictions put on her because of her gender, she doesn’t have “any system of revolt,” and simply occasionally transgresses restrictions. On this occasion, she avoids the tram and walks to a shop where she buys some photographs of famous Italian artworks. She walks into a Piazza, thinking, “nothing ever happens to me,” and then starts to head home.
Caught at a transitional moment in society—especially for women—Lucy is conflicted. She is impatient with the restrictions she faces as a woman, but doesn’t systematically revolt against mainstream society; rather, these restrictions lead her to boredom and frustration.
Just then, two Italian men near Lucy get into a fight. One of them is stabbed and, turning toward her, bleeds profusely. Stunned, Lucy looks around and happens to see George Emerson not too far away, before fainting. When she comes to, she is in George’s arms. She thanks him for catching her when she fainted, but tells him that she can return to the Pension by herself.
Lucy here fulfils the stereotypical role of a romantic heroine, fainting and being rescued by a man. Once she regains herself, she reasserts her independence in wanting to return to the Pension alone—though also because Charlotte has taught her to be wary of male strangers.
Lucy suddenly thinks of her photographs, which she dropped when she fainted. George goes to pick them up and Lucy tries to walk off without him, but he stops her and insists on accompanying her back to the Pension. As George finds her photographs, Lucy looks around and sees “creatures with black hoods, such as appear in dreams.” Discussing the fight they witnessed, Lucy and George go to the river, where they refuse a cabman who signals to them from his boat.
George’s refusal to let Lucy go back to the Pension on her own can be seen as a generous act of kindness (she has, after all, just fainted) or as somewhat patronizing, as he assumes that she needs his help to get back.
Suddenly, George throws Lucy’s photographs into the river. Lucy is shocked, but George explains that they were covered in blood. George then tells Lucy that he feels “something tremendous has happened,” and that “it isn’t exactly that a man has died.” He tells Lucy that the ladies at the Pension are horrible gossipers, and asks her not to mention his behavior to anyone. She agrees, as he gets lost in his thoughts about the “something” that “had happened to the living.” He tells Lucy, “I shall probably want to live,” and she doesn’t know what he means.
George behaves impulsively and boldly, throwing the pictures away without any warning, and talking without any regard for conversational manners. Lucy is confused by his vague, modernist thoughts about the “something” that has happened (which seems may be that George has fallen in love with Lucy). Lucy’s promise to keep the secret means that she will not be able to be fully truthful to Charlotte about what has happened today.