The next morning, Philip joins Rachel while she works in the garden. The two again discuss whether Philip will marry. Philip insists: “If it’s warmth and comfort that a man wants, and something beautiful to look upon, he can get all that from his own house, if he loves it well.” This makes Rachel laugh so hard that “Tamlyn and the gardeners, working at the far end of the plantation, [raise] their heads to look.” Rachel tells him: “You must be a heartbreak to the neighbourhood. That poor Louise…”
Philip’s comment is important on a plot level because he refers to it in the climactic scene between him and Rachel on the eve of his twenty-fifth birthday. On a thematic level, this scene shows how naïve Philip is. His home is so important to him that he has come to genuinely believe that it can provide a reasonable stand-in for a romantic partner. Rachel’s laughter shows that she finds Philip’s earnestness both ridiculous and touching.
October arrives, and Rachel spends three weeks working in the garden. She and Philip also visit the tenants on the estate, and Rachel endears herself to them with her knowledge of herbal remedies. She also receives some formal calls at the house, and is “as successful with ‘the gentry,’ as Seecombe call[s] them, as […] with the humbler folk.” The servants at the Ashley estate rejoice in Rachel’s presence, and Philip, too, enjoys hearing “county gossip” from Rachel in the evenings.
Rachel’s popularity with the tenants at the Ashley estate, as well as other members of the landed gentry, shows her charisma. Rachel’s talent at prescribing herbal remedies makes her particularly special and valuable to the community—however it also ultimately makes her a threat. Philip mentions to Rachel that some of the tenants believe in witchcraft, but it will be he who interprets Rachel’s medicinal abilities as sinister; by the end of the novel, Philip will suspect that Rachel is poisoning his tisana with laburnum seeds. It is worth noting that it is Rachel’s intelligence that makes her threatening. This suggests that society at large is not comfortable with educated women.
One night, when Rachel and Philip are talking in the library, Rachel mentions that the people of the neighborhood have provided her “a list of eligible widowers.” Rachel quips that if she ever remarries, she will marry Nick Kendall. Philip knows Rachel is teasing him, but, nevertheless, during the next Sunday dinner he finds himself jealously observing Rachel’s conversation with Kendall. “Another trick of women,” Philip thinks, “to throw a jest in the air that left a sting behind it.”
This moment shows how vulnerable Philip is to jealousy. He easily becomes obsessed with the possibility that Rachel might marry his godfather, Nick Kendall, and the idea makes him incredibly sulky, and resentful of a man he has known and loved all his life. This is merely a hint of the destructive power of Philip’s jealous, obsessive tendencies, which are rooted in his desire to have sole “possession” of Rachel.
Rachel and Philip continue a pattern of teasing and jealousy, respectively, always concluding their days with conversation in the library. Philip loves these tender evening moments and wonders, “Why first the pin-prick, the barb of irritation to disturb the atmosphere, giving herself the trouble to make it calm again?”
As it is for Philip, it is impossible for the reader to know why Rachel enjoys “disturb[ing] the atmosphere.” The dynamic between Philip and Rachel is similar to the one between Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester in Charlotte Brontë’s classic, to which My Cousin Rachel has long drawn comparison. While Rachel, like Jane, surely has her motives for her teasing behavior, it also seems likely that Philip is oversensitive to Rachel’s “barbs” because he is so self-conscious about the intense attraction he feels toward her.
By the end of October, the fair weather breaks, and—at Seecombe’s suggestion—Philip decides to spend one rainy morning going through Ambrose’s old things. Rachel joins him, and they begin by sorting through Ambrose’s clothes, which Rachel decides should be given to the tenants on the estate. Suddenly, Rachel bursts into tears; Philip holds her. He offers to finish the task himself, addressing Rachel directly by her name for the first time, rather than as “cousin Rachel.”
This is a key moment in the novel. Up to this point, Philip has always referred to Rachel as “my cousin Rachel.” Here, for the first time, he directly addresses her as just “Rachel.” This moment is often interpreted as the moment in which Philip falls fully in love with Rachel. Philip’s use of Rachel’s name also represents a break from Ambrose’s habit of using the phrase “cousin Rachel.” For the first time Philip seems to be asserting himself as a man, addressing Rachel the woman. Philip surprises even himself when he does this.
Philip and Rachel move on to sorting through Ambrose’s books, chatting as they do so. Rachel is particularly pleased to find a book about gardens. Philip is startled when he opens a book “at random” and sees a letter from Ambrose fall out. The letter is merely a scrap, “torn from its context and forgotten,” but it appears to have been addressed to Philip. In it, Ambrose accuses Rachel of kleptomania, which he believes she has inherited from her father. He writes: “This much I do know, dear boy, that I cannot any longer, nay I dare not, let her have command over my purse, or I shall be ruined, and the estate will suffer.”
Ambrose’s letter startles Philip out of his sense of comfort with Rachel, reminding him and the reader that the question of Rachel’s guilt and innocence is still very much at stake. It is important to note that Ambrose accuses Rachel of having kleptomania, rather than of being a thief, as if Rachel is not fully in charge of her actions, even when she is committing a crime. Philip will similarly seek to minimize Rachel’s agency later in the novel, when he theorizes that Rachel is acting at the behest of her advisor, Signor Rainaldi. This could be because Ambrose and Philip both have trouble fully believing Rachel might be a bad person. It also seems likely that part of the reason the Ashley men tend to dismiss Rachel’s agency is because they don’t believe her to be a fully autonomous person, by virtue of the fact that she is a woman.
Rachel notices Philip has found something, but Philip insists it’s “nothing” and throws the letter in the fire. However, Rachel has seen Ambrose’s handwriting, and asks what the paper was. Philip tells her it was “just some note [Ambrose] had made […] on an old scrap of paper,” and returns to sorting the other books. Rachel continues working alongside Philip, but now they are both silent.
The question of Rachel’s past—and her potential past sins—reappears on center stage. It is noteworthy that this reminder of Rachel’s guilt comes in the form of a rediscovered letter because it suggests the extreme power of the written word and of the past itself, which reasserts itself despite attempts to suppress it.