A year later, George and Robert are back at Fig-tree Court. George still feels intense sorrow over his wife. He remarks to Robert about how, unlike physical injuries, one cannot tell a person’s emotional injuries from the outside. George also feels regret that he cannot fulfill the role of a father to his own child.
George’s words add to the argument that appearances can be misleading and easily misinterpreted. One cannot tell what a person has suffered just by looking at them. George’s grief has a lasting impact on his character.
Robert suggests he and George go hunting at Audley Court. Robert admits that he does not like hunting but wants to enjoy his uncle’s company and meet his new aunt. George passively agrees to go with him, as he agrees to everything his friend says.
Robert, unused to the serious issues of life, assumes that his friend needs to indulge in the upper-class’s hobbies, of which hunting was a common activity.
Robert writes to Alicia asking if he and George can visit. Alicia writes back saying that Lady Audley claims that she is too sick to have “great rough men” visit. Robert says they can go to Essex (the neighborhood of Audley Court) to stay in a hotel and go fishing. Robert places Alicia’s letter in his desk, not knowing that it will someday be crucial to the only criminal case he will ever investigate.
This section foreshadows the criminal investigation into George’s disappearance, which will become central to the plot. Lady Audley’s motives are opaque still, as she may either actually be sick or have some reason to want to keep Robert and George away from Audley Court.
George and Robert go to the decaying village of Audley, three-quarters of a mile away from Audley Court. Meanwhile, Sir Michael has transformed the interior of the mansion with luxurious decorations to compliment his pretty wife. Alicia’s contempt for Lady Audley’s “childishness and frivolity” grows. Everyone else in the neighborhood adores Lady Audley, whose rosy lips, button nose, and golden curls give her an innocent, youthful beauty.
Victorian society upheld the home as a place of family harmony, so Alicia is committing a transgressive act by refusing to get along with her stepmother. The community assumes that Lady Audley’s lovely, childlike looks must be reflective of an innocent personality, an assumption the plot will prove false.
George and Robert lounge in the peaceful countryside, but the narrator reminds the reader that people in the countryside commit murders just as violent as those in the city. Sir Michael, Alicia, and Lady Audley pass through the village and Robert runs out to greet them while George hangs back. Alicia wants to meet George, but Lady Audley says she is tired and wants to go home. Sir Michael invites the men to dinner the following day.
The peaceful atmosphere of the countryside is another example of a deceptive appearance. This also foreshadows the violent events that will happen in the countryside later in the novel. Lady Audley continues to keep Robert and George at arm's length, throwing more suspicion on her character.
Alicia teases Robert about falling in love with Lady Audley just like everyone else does, even though she thinks he’s ultimately too frivolous to really fall in love. Robert returns to George proclaiming that he has in fact, fallen in love with his aunt. George sighs and thinks sadly about when he first fell for his wife.
Robert’s views on love are dramatic and exaggerated, like a love story in a romance novel, showing that he is as frivolous as Alicia says. George relates everything to his own all-consuming grief.
Back at Audley Court, Phoebe attends to Lady Audley. Lady Audley is much friendlier with her maid than she is with more upper-class ladies. Lady Audley tells Phoebe that some people say that the two women look alike. With some hair dye and rouge, Phoebe would be just as beautiful as Lady Audley. Lady Audley then asks Phoebe to go to London to run a secret errand for her.
Lady Audley transgresses against the lines of class by being friends with her maid. The similarities between the two women show the superficiality of the idea of “nobility,” because it could be imitated with just a few material goods. Lady Audley’s “secret” errand hints at her scheming nature.
The next morning, Lady Audley receives a telegram from her former employer, Mrs. Vincent. The telegram states that Mrs. Vincent is very ill and wants to see Lady Audley before she dies. Sir Michael says he will go with her.
This telegram arrives right after Sir Michael invites Robert and George to dinner and Phoebe leaves on a secret errand in London, throwing suspicion on both the telegram and Lady Audley herself.