Robert worries about Sir Michael’s quiet devastation. He fears Sir Michael in his old age might collapse from despair, but decides he should leave his uncle alone to grieve. Robert runs into Alicia, who is complaining about dinner being late. Robert explains that Sir Michael has suffered a great loss and his daughter must comfort him. Alicia must accompany Sir Michael when he leaves Audley Court because he is separated from his wife forever. Robert urges Alicia to never mention Lady Audley’s name to her father. He hopes Alicia can make Sir Michael happy again.
This state of despair is a dramatic change for Sir Michael, who began the story full of happiness and spirit. As the story nears a conclusion, Braddon’s general defense of the status quo grows clearer. Lady Audley represents a deceitful woman who has ruined an honest man, and also shows a lower-class social climber destroying the noble, moral members of the upper class.
Robert tells Alicia he loves her as a brother, not as Sir Harry loves her. Alicia admits she has been foolish and mean to him, and that now she must care for her father. She prepares for them to leave, and Robert recognizes a new seriousness in her behavior.
Once Robert is honest about his feelings, Alicia is able to move on and show her development as a character by becoming more serious and mature in this scene.
Robert goes to tell Sir Michael that Alicia will accompany him. At first, Sir Michael wishes to go alone, but then he realizes he should go with Alicia. He regrets allowing Lady Audley to estrange him from his daughter. Sir Michael tells Robert that, although Sir Michael is miserable, Robert made the right decision in revealing Lady Audley’s secrets.
With the wicked wife and stepmother out of the way, a once happy family can be reunited. Sir Michael’s assurance of Robert shows that although the truth comes with sacrifices, living a lie is worse.
Robert returns to the library to find Lady Audley still lying on the floor. He tells her maid to take the lady up to her room because she is sick. As the maid leads her away, Lady Audley asks if Sir Michael is gone, and if anyone died in the Castle Inn fire. Robert says no one died. Lady Audley says she is glad. He bids her goodnight, saying they will talk again tomorrow.
One could interpret Lady Audley’s strange calmness here as relief or resignation now that she has confessed all of her secrets. In this scene, she hardly seems like the criminal mastermind described in her previous confession.
Robert sits down in front of the fireplace, wondering at how such a pleasant place as Audley Court has been transformed into a house full of despair. He doesn’t know what to do next. Alicia and Sir Michael come to say goodbye. Robert promises Sir Michael he will do what needs to be done about Lady Audley.
Robert recognizes the vulnerability of the Victorian ideal of the peaceful, pleasant family home, especially the upper-class manor, to the perceived threat of lower-class social climbers and criminals.
Alone again, Robert thinks the responsibility to deal with Lady Audley must be God’s punishment for his previously idle life. God must be teaching him that one can’t choose their own fate. Robert asks a servant to send a telegram to London asking for a doctor to come to Audley Court.
Robert reflects the common Christian idea that God punishes the sinful and redeems those who are willing to confess and change their ways. This foreshadows the final chapter of the novel.
In the servants’ hall, the servants gather around to discuss what has happened based on the few scraps of gossip they could gather. They suspect Robert told Sir Michael of the death of a relative or a loss of family funds. They settle on the loss of family funds and delight in the idea of the family’s fall, even though it would mean the servants would lose their jobs.
The servants represent the common anxiety among the Victorian upper-class that members of the lower-class delighted in the downfall of the noble families, even if that downfall ended up hurting the lower-class as well.
Robert sits exhausted in front of the fireplace, remembering that just that morning he woke up to find the Castle Inn on fire. He falls asleep right there and wakes up to a telegram saying a doctor is coming. Knowing he has done “all that he could do,” Robert goes to bed. He thinks of Clara and if she has heard of his heroic actions in the Castle Inn fire. In his exhausted state, he imagines “the dark-brown eyes that were so like the eyes of his lost friend.”
Clara’s influence continues to inspire and uplift Robert. This section clearly expresses his desire for Clara and his wish for her to desire him in return. Once again, he expresses his attraction to her by comparing her to George, showing his still-intense closeness with and longing for his lost friend.