Alicia is in love with Robert and intends to use George to make him jealous. According to the narrator, she won’t be successful, however, because Robert is indifferent to and often ignorant of the feelings of those around him. Yet Alicia rides around Essex regardless, hoping she will run into them. Meanwhile, Robert quickly grows bored of fishing and wants to return to London.
Robert’s carelessness in life translates into a carelessness towards others. He also does not yet know much about human nature or the desires of others. Alicia also expresses her agency as a woman here in attempting to take an active role in her courtship of a potential husband.
George mentions that ever since Helen’s death, he feels as if he is standing on a shore with waves creeping up on him, as if his own demise is approaching him. Robert says he has been eating too many heavy suppers and smoking strange cigars.
George’s feelings foreshadow his eventual disappearance. Notably, Lady Audley/Helen is commonly associated with the sea. Robert is typically ignorant of the suffering of those around him.
Before leaving Essex, George and Robert run into Alicia. Alicia shows them a letter from Lady Audley, asking if George and Robert will leave Essex before she gets a chance to properly meet them. Robert remarks on how pretty Lady Audley’s handwriting is. George is gloomy as usual and doesn’t look at the letter.
Lady Audley may be asking if she’ll miss Robert and George because she wants to avoid them. Robert’s observation of her unique handwriting will become crucial later on when he sees Helen’s letters. Ironically, George might have recognized the handwriting if he had looked at the letter.
George and Robert miss their train because Robert has a headache, so they decide to visit Alicia at Audley Court. Alicia shows them around the house, but when she asks Phoebe if they could see Lady Audley’s rooms, Phoebe says that Lady Audley locked her chambers before she left. Alicia is sad, because the lady’s rooms have the best portraits, but they continue their tour. The house is dark and damp and lit only by candlelight.
The dark, candlelit house establishes the gothic tone within Audley Court, hinting that something sinister will soon reveal itself. Lady Audley’s locking of her chambers further builds suspicion around her character. The portraits suggest that Lady Audley’s chambers are full of decorative luxury.
Alicia then remembers a secret passageway that leads to Lady Audley’s chambers. Robert and George climb through to Lady Audley’s dressing-room, which is filled with expensive cosmetics, flowers, and jewelry.
The secret passageway is another gothic trope. Lady Audley’s chambers are filled with material markers of her newfound class and wealth.
Robert and George move to a room that contains portraits by famous artists. An unfinished portrait of Lady Audley sits on an easel. George spends a long time looking at the lady’s portrait. The painter, a pre-Raphaelite, has portrayed Lady Audley’s delicate face as lurid, her blue eyes as sinister, and her pouting mouth as wicked. Her dress, her lips, and her hair all contain elements of red. Robert says, “there’s something odd about [the portrait].”
The painter interprets as sinister and wicked (as noted through the use of red) the elements of Lady Audley’s appearance that others find innocent. As an artist, the pre-Raphaelite can express Lady Audley’s true nature. George spends a long time looking at the painting because, as the plot later reveals, he recognizes its subject.
As George and Robert leave Audley Court, they pass Lady Audley’s covered carriage. Lady Audley sticks her head out, unable to tell who they are because of the night’s darkness. The carriage passes the men and continues into Audley Court. Sir Michael remarks that “the storm will hold off to-night…but we shall certainly have it tomorrow.”
The novel is full of narrow misses and missed opportunities like this one, building up the irony and the tension of the story. The “storm” Michael refers to represents the coming confrontation between Lady Audley and George.