Robert contemplates how he now has the evidence to connect Helen Talboys to Lady Audley. He knows he must eventually bring this evidence to Audley Court, but the thought of bringing destruction to his own family causes him great pain. Robert decides that he must first learn what happened to Helen Talboys in the time between George’s abandonment of her and the announcement of her death.
Robert’s motives are questionable here. He may be justified in gaining more information to be absolutely certain before he makes an accusation, but he must also be delaying the inevitable embarrassment upon his family because he doesn’t want to broach the devastating subject.
Robert writes to Clara asking the name of the town where George met Helen and Mr. Maldon, since George never talked to Robert about Helen after her supposed death. Clara sends a telegram saying that the town is named Wildernsea.
Clara once again proves herself essential to Robert’s investigation. The reader is reminded of George’s grief from Volume 1.
The landscape on the long train ride to Wildernsea is dismal and lonely, made even worse by the purpose of Robert’s journey. When he arrives that night, he is the only one at the station. Robert checks himself into a large and empty hotel. He asks the landlord if he ever knew Captain Maldon. The landlord says that he did and he knew Maldon’s daughter too.
All the details of Robert’s surroundings remind both him and the reader how lonely he is, being without his companion George and bearing the sole responsibility for all the knowledge he has discovered about Lady Audley and his own family.
Robert asks the landlord how long Helen and Mr. Maldon stayed in Wildernsea after George left. The landlord says that he does not know, but Robert could ask their former landlady, Mrs. Barkamb.
This introduces Mrs. Barkamb, who will become a key piece of evidence in Robert’s investigation since she knows so much about Helen.
That night, Robert dreams of Audley Court being transported from the peaceful countryside of Essex to the northern sea shore. As waves roll towards the mansion, Lady Audley emerges from the water, looking like a mermaid, beckoning Sir Michael toward destruction. Dark clouds gather over the sea, but then the clouds part as a ray of light shines through. The waves recede, leaving Audley Court safe on shore. Robert awakes feeling relieved.
Lady Audley is often associated with sirens and mermaids, women who use their magical charm to seduce and destroy mortal men. The ray of light represents the truth, breaking up the dark clouds of deception and saving Audley Court and Sir Michael. This dream represents Robert’s decision to expose Lady Audley to Sir Michael.
The next day, Robert walks through the town under a gray and cold sky. He sees the pier where George first met Helen. He thinks how the “sweet delusion” of George’s love turned into a “fatal infatuation.” He marvels at how a previously smart and strong man can be completely overcome by a wicked woman’s spell.
The dismal weather of the town reflects the dark subject matter Robert must investigate. Robert feels like he can now see a pattern of morally corrupt women destroying virtuous men.
Robert goes to Mrs. Barkamb’s house and asks her for the exact date when Helen left Wildernsea. Mrs. Barkamb says Helen left abruptly. She says that Helen attempted to support herself through music lessons after George’s abandonment, but Maldon spent all her money. After a fight with her father, Helen left Wildernsea without her father or her son, but Mrs. Barkamb does not know the exact date.
The details of Helen’s past life create more sympathy for her character, as one can understand why she would wish to leave her exploitative father after her husband’s abandonment left her in poverty. Her own abandonment of her child is harder to understand at this point in the narrative.
Mrs. Barkamb remembers she has a letter Captain Maldon wrote to her on the day Helen left. She also has a letter Helen wrote to Captain Maldon. The letter from Maldon to Mrs. Barkamb laments being deserted by his daughter after a fight over money. The letter is dated August 16th, 1854.
Once again, Maldon complains about being mistreated when he is the one actually exploiting others for money. The date of Helen’s departure is an important addition to Robert’s careful timeline of Helen’s life.
In her letter to Captain Maldon, Helen writes that she has grown weary of her life in Wildernsea and is leaving to find a new one, shedding every link to her horrible past. She asks Maldon to forgive her if she is “fretful, capricious, changeable” because he knows why she is like that. Helen writes, “You know the secret which is the key to my life.” Robert recognizes the handwriting of this letter.
In Volume 3, the reader learns that the secret Lady Audley refers to here is her mother’s madness, which Lady Audley believes she herself has inherited. She uses this madness to justify her actions, rather than take responsibility for her selfish ambition for a wealthier life.
Robert connects the fact that Mr. Maldon’s letter is dated August 16th, 1854 and Miss Tonks said that Lucy Graham arrived at the school on the 17th or 18th of August 1854. Mrs. Barkamb says that she was forced to kick Maldon out in November of that year, at which time he took his grandson and went to London. Robert takes the letters and leaves for London. He intends to find out who is actually buried in Helen’s grave.
The consecutive dates regarding Helen and Lucy are examples of circumstantial evidence, which could either be connected or a result of coincidence, as Lady Audley will later point out as a flaw in Robert’s investigation. Lady Audley’s web of deception is hard to untangle.