The next morning, Robert is lounging at the breakfast table when Phoebe announces that Lady Audley has come to see him. Lady Audley comes in looking as youthful and beautiful as ever. She states that she has come to apologize for the silly ideas her husband had about his youthful wife and nephew’s proximity. She says that such ideas should not ruin their “pleasant little family circle.” Robert says that she should not be alarmed, because he’s not troubled by anything.
Lady Audley looks youthful and therefore innocent, even though she is there to manipulate Robert and guard her secrets. As her character often does, she displaces the responsibility of Robert’s expulsion on someone else, even though the reader knows she asked Sir Michael to kick Robert out.
Lady Audley asks Robert why he is staying at the Castle Inn. He says he is doing so out of curiosity, adding that Luke is “A dangerous man…a man in whose power I should not like to be.” Lady Audley asks what she has done that would make Robert hate her so much. Robert says that since he lost his dear friend, his feelings towards other people are “strangely embittered.”
This is the beginning of the cat-and-mouse game that will consume the rest of the plot, as both Robert and Lady Audley are saying more than their words explicitly state. Robert also shows how George’s disappearance has darkened his previously carefree perspective on the world.
Lady Audley asks if Robert is referring to George, and he says yes. Lady Audley asks why Robert does not believe that George sailed for Australia. Robert refuses to answer, but then he says that he put advertisements in Sydney and Melbourne papers asking for George to write him, but has received no answer.
Lady Audley asks a valid question, because George could very well be in Australia, but her questioning causes Robert to reveal vital information for both the plot and Lady Audley’s deception.
Robert says that if he does not hear back from George, he will act upon his fears. Lady Audley asks him what he will do. Robert admits that he is powerless. George might have died in the Castle Inn, for all he knows. In fact, one may never know what horrible crimes have taken place in the homes one enters. Lady Audley laughs at how obsessed Robert is with such grisly subjects.
Robert’s comments show how seemingly safe locations (like Audley Court, as well as the Castle Inn) can be the location of past crimes. Lady Audley’s manipulation continues as she tries to make Robert seem like he is the absurd one for obsessing over George’s case.
Robert tells Lady Audley that if he receives no answer from George, he will conclude that George is dead and will examine the possessions he left, including the letters from Helen Talboys. He doesn’t expect to deduce much from Helen’s letters, since few women write in such unique handwriting as Lady Audley. Lady Audley says, “‘Ah, you know my hand[writing] of course.’”
This scene foreshadows the moment where Robert will find Helen’s handwriting (though not in a letter) and realize that it matches Lady Audley’s handwriting. This scene also inspires Lady Audley to go to London (in the next chapter) and steal Helen’s letters to George.
Lady Audley says she assumes that Robert does not accept her apology and won’t be coming back to Audley Court. Robert says he will return to London tomorrow to find George’s letters. He escorts Lady Audley back to her carriage.
With the conversation about George over, Lady Audley again brings up social niceties, once more taking on the disguise of a charming, upper-class lady.
Robert later runs into Lady Audley’s carriage driver at the inn’s bar. Robert asks the driver if he took the lady back to Audley Court. The driver says that he actually took the lady to the railroad station, so that she could take a train to London. Robert realizes he must go back to London immediately, and he knows where he’ll find Lady Audley when he gets there.
Robert has now fully realized that Lady Audley is actively working against his investigation in George’s disappearance. In the process, Lady Audley is exercising her agency by traveling alone and without her husband’s knowledge, an uncommon action for a Victorian woman.