Sunset falls upon Audley Court, casting the house in deep shades of red. The landscape is still and quiet. Phoebe Marks, the maidservant of Lady Audley, walks out into the gardens. The narrator describes Phoebe as not “pretty” but “interesting.” She would be pretty if her pale complexion weren’t completely without color. Even her dress is a “sickly grey” that matches her skin. Despite her humble appearance, she has “something of the grace and carriage of a gentlewoman.”
The red light falling upon Audley Court foreshadows the violence and evil that will take place there, as the book often associates red with evil and madness. Phoebe looks and acts similar to Lady Audley, a similarity that will become more relevant later. Also, her upper-class characteristics reveal the insignificance of class in terms of grace and dignity. She only lacks the material wealth of an upper-class woman.
A man is sitting on the old well when Phoebe emerges from the lime-tree walk. Phoebe assures him they won’t be heard in this secluded area. The man, named Luke, is “broad-shouldered” and “stupid-looking.” Luke is Phoebe’s first cousin and sweetheart from childhood. They remark on how much money Lady Audley has now that she’s married Sir Michael and how wonderful it would be if they too had wealth.
Here and throughout the novel, the lime-tree walk means secrets and seclusion for the novel’s characters. Phoebe and Luke recognize Lady Audley as a lower-class social climber, and they too are motivated to increase their wealth.
Phoebe remarks on how just three months ago, Lady Audley was a servant like her. Luke tells her not to worry because they could buy a public house (an inn) and make a lot of money. Phoebe continues to talk about all the material luxuries that Lady Audley owns, as well as about Lady Audley’s good looks.
Phoebe recognizes that one can move up in the class structure and seems to desire that for herself. Her obsession with Lady Audley’s possessions also suggest a jealousy that will motivate her character.
Since Lady Audley and Sir Michael are away, Luke proposes that he and Phoebe look at all Lady Audley’s finery. Inside, Luke mentions a rumor of a murder that happened in the mansion a long time ago. Phoebe says that, “there are murders enough in these times.”
Phoebe and Luke’s obsession with material wealth continues into an invasion of her employer’s privacy. Phoebe’s comment about murder foreshadows Lady Audley’s attempted murder of George.
Luke considers stealing one of Lady Audley’s diamond bracelets, but Phoebe tells him not to. Luke finds a secret drawer containing a baby’s shoe and lock of hair. Phoebe says she prefers this find to the diamond bracelet, and that Luke shall get his public house.
The baby’s shoe and hair are from Lady Audley’s secret son Georgey, as the reader will later learn. Phoebe begins to hatch a blackmailing scheme that will get them the money they need for the public house.