Bewildered, Robert travels back to England. He wonders if and how he will tell Sir Michael that the woman his uncle once loved is a murderer. He agonizes over what to do, because if George’s remains are found on Audley Court’s grounds, the police will investigate and bring disgrace onto the Audley family. Even so, Robert knows he must give his friend a proper burial.
Despite the consequences the truth will have upon his family, Robert remains committed to seeking justice for his dead friend. Just like with his investigation into Lady Audley’s secrets, Robert is torn between justice for the dead (George) and mercy upon the living (Sir Michael).
Robert arrives in London and goes to the hotel Sir Michael and Alicia were staying at, only to discover that they have left for Vienna. He goes back to his apartment and finds letters from Sir Michael, Alicia, and Clara. Alicia’s letter says she called a doctor to examine her unusually quiet father, and the doctor suggested they take a vacation. Sir Michael’s letter offers Robert whatever money needed to deal with a certain woman, provided that Robert never mentions her to him again, a request which relieves Robert.
Alicia’s development as a character is shown through her care for her father. Due to Sir Michael’s suffering, they have reversed the roles of a typical Victorian father and daughter, with the daughter making the decisions and taking responsibility for her father’s well-being. Thus Lady Audley’s influence continues to disrupt Victorian ideals of women and family.
Clara’s letter states that Luke is in failing health and both he and Phoebe wish to see Robert before Luke dies. Robert smokes his pipe and has pleasant dreams of Clara, but when the dreams fade, he faces the horrible reality of having to go back to Essex. He dreads telling Clara the truth about George and decides it’s better for her to falsely hope for her brother’s return.
Robert has spent much of the novel pursuing knowledge, but now that he has seen the consequences of knowledge firsthand, he decides that sometimes it is better for one to remain ignorant of the horrible truth.
While he waits for the next train to Essex, Robert contemplates how much his life has changed in a year and a half. He used to care for nothing but his idle hobbies, and now he has felt both love and tragedy. He wonders how Clara would react if he told her his life found new purpose in solving George’s case, and he finds an even stronger purpose in his love for her. He thinks if he told her how much he loves her, she would only pity him. He can’t hope for anything while he is still haunted by George’s murdered body.
Investigating George’s case has fully separated Robert from the idle privileged life he lived at the beginning of the novel. Robert has found a purpose in solving George’s case and in loving Clara, yet he too must suffer the cost of uncovering secrets, as the ghost of George now seems to haunt him.
Robert paces back and forth. He has no interest in smoking alone and feels alienated from all his old friends, who only care for pleasure and wouldn’t understand the horrors he’s been through. Finally, Robert leaves for the train, although in his fragile mental state he fears George’s ghost invading his empty apartment. The narrator argues one would naturally have such delusions after experiencing the trauma Robert has.
Robert longs for someone who has experienced the same level of tragedy as him. This partly explains his desire for Clara, since they have both lost George. The image of George’s ghost represents the lasting impact of the past and the persistence of the truth against deception.
Robert takes a carriage to the train station but still feels pursued by George’s ghost. He knows the only way to ease his mind is to give George a proper burial, even if it means bringing Lady Audley back to England for a criminal trial. Robert thinks the late-night journey is dreary, but he will do anything Clara asks of him.
Robert feels compelled to choose to uphold the truth, even when deception would cause him and others less pain. The thought of Clara continues to compel Robert towards doing what’s right.
Robert arrives in Mount Stanning, where the wind blows on the charred remains of the Castle Inn. Robert goes to Mr. Dawson, because the doctor has been caring for Luke since the fire. Mr. Dawson leads him to the cottage where Luke lies. He tells Robert that Luke is dying of shock, partly due to his already failing health as a result of his alcoholism.
One could interpret Luke’s dying state as his punishment for a life filled with vice and blackmail. One could also see him as a poor victim of Lady Audley’s schemes, just like George. Robert seems to sympathize with him in his suffering.
Through the cottage window, Robert sees Luke’s wife and mother watching over him. Robert waits while Mr. Dawson tends to Luke. He listens to the dismal ticking of the living room clock. Finally, Mr. Dawson returns stating that Luke is ready to see him.
The dismal atmosphere of the cottage and the gloomily ticking clock represent Luke’s dying state, as time is running out for him.
Phoebe watches Luke, fearing death itself but not the loss of her husband. Phoebe has made the room around the dying man neat and orderly. Phoebe tries to speak to Robert alone but Luke objects, saying he wants to undo any trouble he’s caused.
Phoebe defies gender roles (and traditional morality) by not caring about her husband’s life. She also attempts to keep Lady Audley’s secrets, and by extension hide her own crime of blackmail.
Phoebe takes Robert aside and says Luke doesn’t remember anything of the night of the fire, but resents Lady Audley for not buying them a better inn. She asks if Lady Audley is gone from Audley Court forever, and if she will be treated well wherever she is now. Robert answers yes. Phoebe says she still cares about Lady Audley, since the lady was kind to her.
Phoebe’s statement is dubious, since Lady Audley was definitely not acting kindly when she set fire to both Phoebe’s property and her husband. Phoebe cares about Lady Audley’s fate because they did share a connection, despite all their deception.
Luke demands to speak to Robert alone. Phoebe agrees, but tells him not to say anything against “those that have been good and generous” to him. Luke, still filled with his old, brutal spirit, says he’ll say whatever he wants. Robert sits at Luke’s bedside and Luke thanks him for saving his life.
Phoebe persists in trying to keep her blackmail scheme a secret, even to the point of making the ridiculous statement that Lady Audley has been “good and generous” to the man she almost killed by arson.
Luke mentions he heard from the Audleys’ servants that Robert was very fond of the man who disappeared at Court. Robert tells him not to speak anymore of George because Lady Audley already told him what happened. Luke asks what exactly Lady Audley said. Robert tells him to stop talking about George, since Lady Audley paid Luke to keep quiet. Luke says he has a secret Lady Audley didn’t know.
This is a dramatic reversal, since for almost the entirety of the novel, Lady Audley has been the one with knowledge that others scramble to learn. For once, someone else possesses a secret unknown to Lady Audley.
Luke pauses, clearly suffering from a fever. Robert thinks about what he will do now that he knows George is dead. He knows if he sees Clara again, he will be compelled to tell the horrible truth—and that if he tells her, her life will be ruined, or else she will want George’s body removed from its unmarked grave. He feels distraught, knowing no one, especially not Clara, cares for him in his despair.
Clara’s influence over Robert is so strong that his only option is to avoid her. Braddon emphasizes Robert’s intense state of despair at having seemingly lost George and now Clara forever. This mood will then dramatically contrast with Robert’s joy once Luke tells him George is alive.