Robert receives a letter Alicia stating that Sir Michael is feeling better and both he and Lady Audley wish to have Robert back at Audley Court. Robert laments that Lady Audley seems nervous about his investigation and yet she does not run away. Robert states that he wants to do his duty to George, but he doesn’t want to punish anyone, so he will give Lady Audley one more warning.
Robert continues to allow love, whether it is his love for George or for Sir Michael, to guide his investigation, thus highlighting his moral strength as a character. At this point, he is not motivated by revenge and is willing to show mercy to Lady Audley, which will change as her crimes increase.
Robert is again overcome with worry about Sir Michael’s ruin, fearing that he himself will be the one responsible if he tells him about Lady Audley’s secrets. But then he thinks of Clara “beckon[ing] him onwards to her brother’s unknown grave.”
A hallmark of “Sensation Fiction” is a concern with scandal (like the scandal of Lady Audley’s crimes). However, Clara’s influence over Robert is stronger than his concern over scandal.
Robert decides that he must confront Lady Audley at Audley Court. When he arrives at the mansion, however, the lady is away shopping. Robert laments that this obsession with George’s case has taken over his life. What if his suspicions are wrong? But then Robert remembers the clue of the handwriting and knows that he only needs to “discover the darker half of my lady’s secret.”
Robert concludes that, despite the weaknesses of circumstantial evidence, he has gathered too many clues for the similarities to just be a coincidence. The “darker half” he speaks of refers to the morbid subject of who is buried in Helen’s grave.
Robert strolls to a nearby, lonely church. He listens to an unknown organist playing and thinks about how what torments him about George’s death is all he doesn’t know about it. He thinks about how Lady Audley is now out living the life of a normal upper-class woman, hiding her wicked ways.
Robert’s surroundings reflect his isolated situation. Churches symbolize morality, a subject he’s wrestling with. Lady Audley is hiding specifically within upper-class society, emphasizing her transgressions.
When Robert goes to greet the organist, he discovers that Clara is the one playing the organ. She is visiting friends nearby. Clara comments that Robert looks ill. Robert says he is not ill, but troubled. He wonders if Clara is suspicious of his attempts to hide Sir Michael and Lady Audley’s identities. He thinks that he and Clara are unequally matched because of her beauty and wisdom.
Braddon often uses coincidence to put her characters in situations that challenge them. This scene shows that Robert himself has secrets he wishes to hide, but his secrets are motivated by care for his loved ones, rather than self-interest like Lady Audley.
Before Clara can discover more, Robert says goodbye. Clara reminds him he promised to write her if he discovers any new information. Robert confesses that he has found more circumstantial evidence linking two seemingly unrelated people together. He cannot tell her who those people are until he confirms that the person who lies in Helen’s grave is not Helen.
The fact that Robert intends to eventually reveal his secrets once he has more information redeems his currently deceptive behavior. Or, one could interpret his behavior as an avoidance of bringing embarrassment upon his family.
As Clara leaves, she states that she knows Robert will do his duty to George and solve the mystery of his disappearance. Robert says he is “a lazy, good-for-nothing fellow” but he will sacrifice his own feelings in order to discover what happened to George.
Once again, Clara uses her influence over Robert to accomplish her goal of justice for her brother. Because of her actions, Robert is rededicated to his mission.
Clara rejoins her friends, who tell her about the local baronet Sir Michael. They tell her that Sir Michael recently married a poor young governess. Clara asks for the maiden name of this young governess and what she looks like. The friends tell her about Lady Audley’s childish beauty and golden curls. Clara falls silent, remembering the description of Helen from George’s letter to his sister.
Clara quickly reaches the conclusion that Helen Talboys and this Lady Audley are connected, when the same revelation took Robert much longer. One wonders what Clara, being the more intelligent and more dedicated investigator, would accomplish if she had the same freedom and resources that Robert does as a man.