In the dreariness of winter, Robert wanders around London, lonely and disinterested in the decadent hobbies of his barrister friends. He worries about the “dark cloud” brooding over Sir Michael’s house and wonders when his uncle’s life will be inevitably ruined. He wishes that “she” would take his warning and run away.
Robert’s troubles have alienated him from other members of the upper-class, thus showing how frivolous the Victorian upper-classes could be. The dark cloud represents the influence of a wicked woman at a time when a wife was supposed to have a positive influence on the home.
Alicia writes to Robert telling him Sir Michael is sick (though not deathly ill) and would like to see his nephew. Robert is horrified at the thought of his inaction allowing Sir Michael to die in the arms of a wicked woman.
Robert’s imagining of Sir Michael dying, when Alicia specifically said he was not, builds the melodramatic tone and shows his troubled state of mind.
Robert rushes to Audley Court. He notices that the bare trees surrounding Audley Court look like “ghostly arms” in the “chill winter twilight.” He worries what would happen to Audley Court if Sir Michael should die.
The description of the ghastly atmosphere around the house contributes to the gothic tone and represents the sinister presence that Robert suspects lives in the house (that is, Lady Audley).
At Audley Court, Robert walks through the room with the portraits. Lady Audley’s portrait, with a mocking smile and “tangled glitter of golden hair,” is finished. Robert finds Sir Michael in his bedroom, with Alicia and Lady Audley sitting by his side. The narrator remarks that an artist would love to paint this luxuriously decorated interior with “the graceful figures of the two women, and the noble form of the old man.” Lady Audley looks like a saint next to her husband.
Victorian society upheld the image of a romantic domestic setting, which this scene appears to convey. Robert, however, knows that this ideal is an allusion, as Lady Audley uses the appearance of a loving and submissive wife to hide her dark secrets and ambitions. The luxurious interior only highlights Lady Audley’s moral depravity.
Alicia and Lady Audley greet Robert while Sir Michael is still asleep. Robert studies Lady Audley’s face, attempting to detect her trickery. He mentions that Lady Audley must be very anxious since she depends on Sir Michael for her safety. Lady Audley says, “Those who strike me must strike through him.” She keeps watching Robert, defying him with her blue eyes and pretty smile.
Robert’s words have a double meaning in that Victorian women were dependent upon their husbands for their survival and Lady Audley is specifically dependent upon Sir Michael to keep Robert from exposing her secrets. Robert still believes he can divine Lady Audley’s secrets from her appearance.
Sir Michael awakes and tells Robert that he must get along with his aunt. Robert assures him that he is now immune to her charms. Lady Audley explains that she was only afraid of people gossiping.
Sir Michael wishes for family harmony, a Victorian ideal. Lady Audley blames Robert’s expulsion from the home on public opinion, again refusing to take responsibility.
Mr. Dawson arrives and examines Sir Michael. As he leaves, Robert follows him out and asks him about Lady Audley’s past. Mr. Dawson is suspicious of Robert’s intentions, but Robert says he suspects that Lady Audley is not worthy to be the wife of a noble man such as Sir Michael, and that he hopes to clear her name.
Nobility and worth have two meanings here, as Lady Audley may not be morally worthy to be the wife of such a kind man, but she also may not be worthy of the “noble” life she now lives because she is a lower-class social climber.
Mr. Dawson says that Lucy Graham became his family’s governess in May of 1856, after answering an ad he put in the newspaper. She had a strong recommendation from Mrs. Vincent, a proprietress of a school in London. He gives Robert the address of Mrs. Vincent. Robert tells Mr. Dawson that he still has three years of Lady Audley’s life to uncover before he can exonerate her of suspicion.
Acting like a real detective, Robert is now methodically reconstructing a timeline of Lady Audley’s life. Mr. Dawson’s lack of knowledge about his former employee throws further suspicion on the already mysterious past of Lady Audley.
Robert returns to Lady Audley and Alicia to find them having tea in Lady Audley’s room. Robert observes how innocent and beautiful Lady Audley looks while engaged in the “most feminine and most domestic” act of pouring tea. He cannot imagine a man doing this activity or such a delicate creature in the rough society of men.
Lady Audley uses the expectations and distractions of gender in Victorian society to hide her trickery. Robert sees the falsehood of such gender stereotypes, because he knows that while women may perform innocent and delicate acts, they are also just as capable of evil as men.
Robert mentions to Alicia that she doesn’t look well. She says it doesn’t matter if she is well or not. She has begun to think like Robert and believe that nothing matters. Robert says that he cares about her health and so does Harry Towers. Alicia returns to reading her romance novel. Robert announces that he will leave tomorrow morning for London, but will return to Audley Court the next day.
Alicia remains strong-willed and defiant of both Robert and the Victorian gender role of a submissive, pleasant woman. Ironically, she is reading a romance novel when there is no romance in her life, because she rejected a man who loved her in favor of a man who does not.
Lady Audley asks Robert what he talked to Mr. Dawson about. Robert says that it was a legal matter he cannot disclose. Alicia tries to chat with Robert, but he is lost in thought. Alicia scolds him for being so dull and unintelligent. All Robert can think about is Clara and how he must return to his investigation.
As Alicia notices, Robert’s temperament has changed from his formerly careless, lively manner. His motivations are now completely centered on Clara and his investigation into George’s disappearance.