Robert returns to London and goes to Mrs. Vincent’s address. He finds her neighborhood under construction and struggles to find her home. Robert laments that if he were actually acting as a barrister, he would not be doing such hands-on investigating. He finds the address but discovers that Mrs. Vincent has moved. He asks the local baker if he knows where she went, and the baker says he wish he did, because Mrs. Vincent owes him money. Finally, a neighbor tells him where to find Mrs. Vincent after Robert swears that Mrs. Vincent does not owe him any money.
Like Lady Audley, Mrs. Vincent is also a character with secrets and questionable morals. She lives in extreme poverty, meaning that her former employee, Lady Audley, has risen far above her in status and wealth. Robert, who previously wouldn’t work hard at anything, begrudgingly pursues his investigation against uncommon difficulties, showing further development for his character.
As Robert goes to Mrs. Vincent’s new home, he imagines Sir Michael lying asleep while Lady Audley plays music. He thinks it would be a pleasant image, if he didn’t know that it is a sinister lie.
This is another example of a seemingly loving, safe domestic scene that actually hides Lady Audley’s secrets and her sinister nature.
Robert finds Mrs. Vincent in a shabby house filled with broken furniture. Robert asks her if she remembers Lucy Graham, and Mrs. Vincent says yes. Mrs. Vincent knows very little about Lucy’s past. She has not heard from Lucy since Lucy took the job at the Dawsons. Robert asks if Mrs. Vincent sent a telegram to Lucy last September stating she was deathly ill and needed to see her. Mrs. Vincent says that she did not.
The poverty of Mrs. Vincent’s home contrasts sharply with the luxurious decoration of Audley Court described just one chapter before. Lady Audley’s character remains mysterious, but this scene confirms her scheming as shown by the false telegram, introduced all the way back in Volume 1, Chapter 7.
Robert asks what date Lucy first came to Mrs. Vincent’s school. Mrs. Vincent says that she doesn’t remember, but Tonks does. She calls in Miss Tonks, who says that Lucy came in on either the 17th or the 18th of August 1854.
Dates are crucial to Robert’s careful, methodical process of reconstructing Lady Audley’s past. This shows his newfound focus and use of his detective skills.
Robert asks Mrs. Vincent and Miss Tonks where Lucy came from. Mrs. Vincent says somewhere by the sea, but she’s not sure where. Miss Tonks says that Lucy kept her personal information a secret “in spite of her innocent ways and her curly hair.” Mrs. Vincent reveals that Lucy came with no reference, saying she had quarreled with her father and wanted to be far away from anyone who ever knew her.
Mrs. Vincent and Miss Tonks represent the two different responses characters have to Lady Audley. Vincent, like most characters, is charmed into believing anything she says. Miss Tonks, being more observational, sees through Lady Audley’s disguise.
Mrs. Vincent admits that she didn’t question Lucy because she was “perfect.” Miss Tonks accuses her of being blind to the faults of her favorites and that Lucy was only “ornamental” to the school. Robert asks Miss Tonks if she has any more information. She doesn’t, other than that Lucy often referred to herself as an unfairly poor and deprived person.
Tonks clearly resents Lady Audley, a weakness which could expose Audley’s secrets. Like her father, Mr. Maldon, Lady Audley views herself as the victim of impoverished circumstances, even though characters such as Robert would view her as a villain.
Robert asks if Lucy left any possession behind. Miss Tonks goes to fetch an empty box that used to belong to Lucy. Robert thinks about how Miss Tonks seems to delight in the opportunity to tear down a fellow woman. Miss Tonks returns with a hat box covered in labels from different railroads and countries. Robert discovers that one label, bearing the name of Lucy Graham, has been pasted upon another. Robert peels back the first label and then the second.
The hat box, which would have been used as a travel suitcase, bears labels from Helen Talboys’ travels with George throughout Europe. Though the text doesn’t explicitly state so, one can infer that the bottom label reads Helen Talboys. Robert literally peals away the surface of Lady Audley’s disguise in order to find the true identity beneath.
Robert bids Miss Tonks and Mrs. Vincent goodbye and takes the two labels with him. He thinks to himself that what he has found today is enough to convince Sir Michael that Lady Audley is a “designing and infamous woman.”
Robert has reached a pivotal point in his investigation where he now can reveal Lady Audley’s secrets to Sir Michael. Now his moral quandary concerns whether or not to actually tell him, and risk destroying his uncle’s life.