One evening, the son of the picture cleaner from Gratz arrives with cases of paintings. After eating dinner, Laura, her father, and the servants (other than Carmilla who sits back apathetically) crowd around as he unpacks the paintings, which are mostly old portraits that have been restored. The paintings have been sent to them by Laura’s mother’s family, and Laura’s father focuses on one painting, a portrait of a woman whom he believes is Marcia Karnstein, an aristocrat. The portrait is small, without a frame, and Laura is shocked to see that the woman in the portrait is identical to Carmilla down to the very last detail.
The Karnstein family plays a major role in the narrative, and this is the first major clue that Carmilla is not who she claims to be. Laura and her father once again show their naivety when they fail to question why the aristocratic woman in the portrait looks exactly like Carmilla; instead, they’re merely intrigued by the similarity and (in Laura’s case) fascinated with the portrait.
Laura comments on the striking resemblance, but Laura’s father appears fairly unimpressed and uninterested, continuing to talk with the son of the picture cleaner. Laura continues to gaze upon the portrait in wonder, and she asks if she can hang it in her room. Carmilla, meanwhile, does not even acknowledge the portrait, merely smiling at Laura instead.
Laura’s fascination with the portrait reflects her fascination and captivation with Carmilla, but the portrait is something she is able to control, unlike the girl herself. Laura’s wish to hang the portrait in her room, the most intimate setting, allows her to keep Carmilla’s aesthetic beauty without the dangerous and frightening parts of her.
Upon closer examination, Laura and her father realize that they’re not looking at a portrait of Marcia Karnstein, but of Mircalla, Countess Karnstein. Carmilla reveals that she is descended from the Karnsteins and that there are no longer any living Karnsteins, although the ruins of their castle lie only about three miles away. Carmilla still appears fairly unenthusiastic, and she asks Laura if she wants to take a walk in the moonlight. Laura comments that the evening reminds her of the night Carmilla first came to them.
Like Carmilla herself, Laura and her father cannot properly read the portrait, mistaking who is actually represented. Just as they can’t properly read the portrait, they are unable to see Carmilla’s true nature.
The two girls depart with their arms around each other’s waists. Carmilla asks Laura if she’s happy that she came to stay with them, and Laura tells her she’s delighted by her company. Carmilla draws her closer, happy that Laura asked to hang the portrait that resembles her in her room. Laura tells Carmilla that she is sure that Carmilla has been in love before from the way she speaks, and Carmilla tells her that she has never loved anyone but Laura. Carmilla says that she lives in Laura, and that Laura would die for her.
Carmilla once again expresses her intense feelings for Laura, claiming that she has never loved anyone but Laura, and insisting that Laura would die for her as well. Her words reflect their mutual failure to truly understand love; Carmilla’s view of love is extremely selfish, and Laura believes Carmilla because she has no previous experience with such emotions.
This scares Laura, who pushes herself off of Carmilla. Suddenly, Carmilla once more becomes apathetic and asks if she’s been dreaming. Laura tells Carmilla that she looks ill, and they return to the schloss. Laura worries that Carmilla has caught the illness that has been infecting the surrounding villages. This would upset her father greatly, who would immediately send for the physician. Carmilla insists that she is fine, that she is simply weak and incapable of much exertion. They pass the remainder of the evening talking, without any more of the incidents and behavior that frighten Laura.
Again, Laura is unable to handle Carmilla’s extreme professions of love, but she continues to worry about her and care for her nonetheless. She can’t accept Carmilla’s love because she is unable to accept (or even recognize) her own attraction. Carmilla inquires about Laura’s dreams, the one place where Laura manifests these secret desires.