Robert Audley enjoys all the privileges of being a barrister (lawyer) but has never actually done any work for his job. The only son of Sir Michael’s brother, he is handsome and lazy. He enjoys smoking his German pipe and reading his French novels.
Robert is beloved by his uncle Sir Michael and his cousin Alicia. While Alicia, as the heiress to a great estate, would be a good match for Robert, he is too careless to think of marriage or fortunes. When he receives a letter from Alicia detailing her hatred of her new stepmother, Lady Audley, his only thought concerns whether or not their fighting will ruin his stay at Audley Court during hunting season.
Robert’s carelessness about life translates to a lack of empathy for others, as shown by his reaction to Lady Audley and Alicia’s fighting. He also doesn’t have to plan at all for the future, or anticipate fitting into the Victorian ideals of marriage and family.
Robert is walking around London when he bumps into a man he does not recognize. The stranger reveals himself to be George Talboys, Robert’s old friend from school. Robert is initially excited to see George, but then lapses into his typical carefree attitude. George explains he is going to a coffee-house where he expects to find a letter from his wife. Robert accompanies him. George eagerly describes his plans for his wealthy new life with his wife.
Robert’s careless nature is so essential to his character that even reuniting with his old friend cannot change it. The reader also sees here that George is not materialistic or greedy, but only thinks about his wealth in terms of being able to make his wife happy.
At the coffee shop, Robert and George find no letter from George’s wife. With George disappointed, they sit down in silence. George picks up a newspaper and discovers an announcement of the recent death of Helen Talboys.
When George sees his wife’s name in the newspaper, his dreams of a happy, wealthy life with her are shattered. This transforms him from a happy husband to a grieving widower.