A few days after the engagement, Mrs. Honeychurch takes Lucy and Cecil to a garden party, to show off the “presentable man” her daughter is marrying. At the party, a cup of coffee is spilled on Lucy’s dress, and she and Mrs. Honeychurch have to leave the room to deal with it, leaving Cecil alone with a group of old women. Afterwards, in the carriage ride back home, Cecil asks if such a party is “typical of country society,” and then tells Lucy that he found the party “perfectly appalling, disastrous, portentous.”
The interactions between Cecil and the Honeychurches show how relative societal judgments can be. Mrs. Honeychurch moves in a well-off social circle in the country, but to Cecil such society is “appalling,” and a pathetic imitation of real high society. Cecil is again George’s opposite: he cares an inordinate amount about social class.
Cecil tells Lucy that he thinks of an engagement as a private matter, and hates how everyone was congratulating them on the engagement, as if it were “public property.” Cecil interlaces Italian phrases in his conversation with Lucy, who thinks that he has “taken to affect a cosmopolitan naughtiness which he was far from possessing,” after spending only one winter in Rome. Cecil tells Lucy that there are “certain irremovable barriers,” between him and the old ladies of country society.
Cecil wants the engagement to be something he owns, that is private—not an expression or sharing of joy. He continues to be haughty and pretentious, dropping Italian phrases after just vacationing in Rome. He sees societal and class barriers as “irremovable,” unaware that these barriers are slowly beginning to come down at this time.
Cecil criticizes Mr. Beebe to Lucy, who then says that she dislikes a different clergyman, Mr. Eager. She says that Mr. Eager claimed someone at the Pension Bertolini had murdered his wife. She can’t remember Mr. Emerson’s name, and thinks the accused was a Mr. Harris. She says that she absolutely hates Mr. Eager. Cecil is amused by Lucy’s rant, but wants to tell her “that a woman’s power and charm reside in mystery, not in muscular rant.” He makes conversation by praising the nature all around them in the carriage.
Lucy does not lie about Mr. Emerson, but mistakenly spreads a false rumor about a Mr. Harris—this will later trouble her, as she tries her hardest to be completely honest. Cecil shares the traditional ideas about women of Charlotte, Mrs. Honeychurch, and other older characters—he has specific ideas about proper female behavior, including not speaking out about opinions, and wants to impose these on Lucy. He talks of nature from within the carriage, but does not leave the carriage to experience it.
The carriage goes by the two villas that Sir Harry Otway has recently bought, and as it goes by, Sir Harry stops them to talk He describes the architecture of the villas, and says he is upset because there is “an old lady, so very vulgar” in one of the villas, who will not move out. Cecil suggests that he “turn her out,” and rent the place, but Sir Harry says that the rent is too high “for the peasant class,” and too low for “any one the least like ourselves.” Annoyed with Sir Harry’s snobbery, Cecil suggests that he rent the villa to a bank clerk (which he knows Sir Harry would never want).
Once again, social class distinctions are very relative. Sir Harry is a snob toward “the peasant class,” but Cecil sees him as not truly upper-class. Cecil is annoyed by Sir Harry’s snobbery not because he believes in equality, but because he thinks Sir Harry doesn’t truly have the right to be so pretentious. Cecil’s dislike of Sir Harry thus does not signal any larger questioning of social hierarchy.
Realizing that Cecil is playing with Sir Harry, Lucy suggests that he rent the place to some gentlewomen spinsters, and says that she knows two such women from Florence—the Miss Alans. Sir Harry loves this idea. Mrs. Honeychurch says she would rather have men live there than women, because men “don’t gossip over tea-cups.” Cecil decides that he and Lucy should walk back the rest of the way to Windy Corner, letting Mrs. Honeychurch take the carriage.
After they leave Sir Harry behind, Cecil tells Lucy that he dislikes him. He says that Sir Harry “stands for all that is bad in country life.” He says that in London, Sir Harry would simply “give brainless dinner parties,” but in the country he is pretentious and “acts the little god with his gentility, and his patronage, and his sham aesthetics.” Cecil is sick of “gentlefolks.” With Cecil disliking both Mr. Beebe and Sir Harry, Lucy worries about what he will think of Freddy, or other people she is fond of.
Cecil continues to look down pretentiously on Sir Harry and the countryside generally. He approaches beauty and aesthetics as a matter of social positioning: Sir Harry’s poor taste and “sham aesthetics” signal his real class, for Cecil. Lucy has concerns about Cecil; their relationship is far from an instant success, and Lucy has to continually think it over.
Lucy and Cecil walk through a wooded area, and Cecil says that he thinks Lucy only imagines him “in a room,” or “in a garden, or on a road,” but never “in the real country.” Lucy concedes that this is true, and that when she thinks of him, it is always in a room with no view. Cecil says that he would like her to associate him “with the open air.” They come to a clearing in the woods, with a little pool Lucy and Freddy used to bathe in as children, which they called The Sacred Lake. Cecil thinks that Lucy reminds him “of some brilliant flower that has no leaves of its own, but blooms abruptly out of a world of green.”
Lucy can only imagine Cecil in a closed room with no view, because she feels trapped and hemmed in by their relationship, and because their relationship fits into prescribed social boxes. Cecil compares Lucy’s beauty to a flower, moved by his natural surroundings. But this comparison also robs Lucy of agency as a person, making her nothing but a pretty object to be admired.
Cecil tells Lucy that he wants to ask her something he has never asked her before, and finally asks if he may kiss her. She says yes, and he kisses her in an awkward embrace. Cecil is embarrassed that he had to ask for the kiss, and imagines that he should have simply rushed up to Lucy in the clearing and kissed her so that she would admire him “ever after for his manliness.” They leave the clearing, and after a long silence Lucy finally says that she has remembered the man’s name from Florence and it is not Harris, but Emerson.
Unlike George, Cecil asks for permission to kiss Lucy—even though they are already engaged. It is indicative of the forced, uncomfortable nature of their relationship and the way that following Victorian customs can rob people of their ability to act on feeling (something even Cecil regretfully feels, though he doesn’t express it in those terms). The awkward kiss hints that Lucy and Cecil do not really love each other, or are not well-suited for each other. Indeed, all the kiss does is bring back Lucy’s memory of her passionate kiss with George, marked by her realization of Mr. Emerson’s name.