The next morning, Lady Audley emerges from her chambers dressed in fine clothing, but with a pale face and dark-circles beneath her eyes. At the breakfast table, Alicia wonders if Robert will come visit today. Lady Audley is startled at the casual mention of the name of a man she knows is dead.
Lady Audley has sunk so low morally that she cannot hide the outward appearance of her troubled character. Her stress only grows as she hides her secret of setting fire to the Castle Inn, slowly pushing her towards a breaking point.
Alicia rambles on about Robert’s poor manners. Sir Michael listens thoughtfully, understanding that Alicia insults Robert because she loves him. Sir Michael mentions that he heard Sir Harry is going to the Continent for a yearlong tour. Alicia says Sir Harry mentioned he would travel if his other plans didn’t work out. Alicia says Harry is a good man, unlike Robert. Sir Michael mentions Robert’s troubling behavior, as described by Lady Audley, but Alicia counters that Robert is too lazy to go mad.
Alicia continues to show her infatuation with Robert by rambling on about him. Sir Michael allows his daughter the freedom to form her own attachments, rather than asserting his patriarchal authority over her. This scene also shows that Sir Michael is still wrestling with the idea of whether or not Robert is mad.
Sir Michael contemplates how his beloved wife told him about Robert’s sanity while she was in a state of agitation. He begins to think he has no evidence to suggest Robert is insane, and that for Lady Audley to accuse him of madness, she would have to be mad herself. Then again, he thinks, Robert has been troubled since George’s disappearance, and Robert showed some unreasonableness in not courting Alicia, even though she has expressed her feelings and would be a perfect match for him.
Sir Michael’s internal conflict over the subject of Robert’s madness is intense, as he weighs his different loyalties to the people he loves. This also shows another troubling aspect of marriage in Victorian society, where one could be perceived as insane for refusing a socially advantageous and seemingly compatible match.
The more Sir Michael thinks, the more he becomes convinced Robert must be mad not to love the pretty, affectionate Alicia, when so many suitors seem to. The narrator points out, however, that love is a mystery, only understood by the individual who suffers from it. Sir Michael cannot see that what some may look for in a partner, others are repulsed by.
Braddon shows that love, and human feeling in general, is more complicated than the norms of Victorian society allow. Love, like madness, can be deceptive if an outsider only makes a surface-level examination of it.
Robert does not love Alicia. He appreciates her pretty looks and her affection for him, but he has lost all romantic interest since he met Clara. He is so attached to Clara he cannot even think about another woman. He feels as if all of society is pushing him to love Alicia, but he simply cannot.
Love defies all societal expectations of what should make a happy marriage (i.e. similarities of class, advancement of wealth, preexisting affection, family approval).
After breakfast, Lady Audley locks herself in her room. From her cabinet, she takes out a bottle labeled “Opium–Poison” but decides she doesn’t need to use it now. She anxiously looks in the direction leading to Mount Stanning. Lady Audley tells her maid she has a headache and will lie down.
Lady Audley’s contemplation of suicide shows the extreme agitation she is feeling. One can see that for a long time, Lady Audley has been prepared to take drastic action to keep her secrets.
Lady Audley dreams that every person in the house is knocking on her door to tell her about the fire. When she awakens, she dresses herself in her best silk, despite her misery. She finds Sir Michael asleep, so she asks Alicia to take a walk with her.
Lady Audley keeps trying to use fine clothes to disguise her distressed state of mind. She is so distressed she would rather spend time with Alicia than be alone with her thoughts.
Despite her troubled mind, Lady Audley’s appearance is completely composed. She asked Alicia to walk with her because she could not bear to wait inside any longer. She wishes time would stand still. She is still troubled by the dream she had during her nap, about a river connecting Audley Court and Mount Stanning. Then she wishes news of the fire would come and her agony would be over. She continues wishing someone would come and tell Sir Michael that Robert is dead.
The river in her dream seems to represent the flow of information between the two places. Lady Audley is dogged by her lack of knowledge, showing a similarity between herself and Robert, who has also spent much of the novel agonizing over all the information he did not know about a potential murder. She doesn’t care about the pain Robert’s death would cause Sir Michael.
Alicia imagines catching a cold on the walk and Robert coming to take care of her in her dying state. Alicia leaves Lady Audley to get dressed for dinner. Night begins to fall, casting shadows over Audley Court. Lady Audley is completely alone until she hears a footstep. She runs to see who it is. She stumbles back and falls to her knees upon discovering it is Robert. He helps her up and leads her inside.
Just as Lady Audley is singularly focused on her secrets, Alicia is singularly focused on Robert’s romantic attentions. The discovery that Robert is still alive is a climactic moment that pushes Lady Audley to finally admit defeat and confess her secrets.