Philip and Rachel spend a pleasant Christmas Day together—but Philip is still angry with Nick Kendall over the matter of the pearl collar. As a way to spite his godfather, Philip decides to spend the New Year making home improvements. The thought of Kendall receiving the bills for the house work—which includes building a terraced walk over the fields—gives Philip “the greatest satisfaction.”
Philip’s motives for conducting home improvements is noteworthy. He is not building on the strong connection he has always felt to his home; rather, he seems to be flaunting, in an effort to spite his godfather and, most likely, to impress Rachel. This represents an important shift, as Philip has become as desperate to keep Rachel on the estate as he initially was to keep her away from it.
Philip uses the home improvements as an excuse to suspend the regular Sunday dinner that Ambrose traditionally held for the Pascoes and Kendalls. Philip and Rachel take to spending their evenings together in Rachel’s bedroom, and Philip is at once pleased and tortured by the “new gentleness” he has observed in Rachel since the pearl collar incident. “Those hands,” he thinks, “resting for a moment on my shoulder, or touching my head in a caress, as she passed by the chair where I was sitting […] would set my heart beating so that it would not be stilled.”
Philip and Rachel’s relocation in the evenings is incredibly meaningful. While the library, where they used to retire after dinner, is nominally a male space (since Philip and Ambrose used to sit there together), Rachel’s bedroom is explicitly her domain. Philip is now spending time on Rachel’s turf. This suggests that the power dynamic is shifting even more obviously in Rachel’s favor. Philip’s fascination with Rachel’s hands also demonstrates how infatuated he is with her at this point.
Early spring arrives. One morning, Philip is summoned to the home of a tenant, who is sick in bed. This tenant is one of those to whom Philip donated Ambrose’s old clothes at Christmastime. The tenant, having just donned the coat for the first time, has found a letter addressed to Philip in Ambrose’s hand wedged between the coat and its lining. Philip takes the letter, and asks his tenant not to mention the matter to anyone.
Again, a rediscovered letter has brought the past—and the question of Rachel’s guilt—surging back to the forefront. Philip’s reaction to his tenant’s discovery is significant: he seems to be trying to suppress any negative information that might come to light about Rachel, even though he doesn’t yet know the contents of Ambrose’s letter. Philip’s desire to protect Rachel suggests at once that he genuinely cares for her, and that he is in denial about who she actually is.
Philip wanders through the grounds, up to a path that overlooks the estate. There, a granite stone that Ambrose often jokingly referred to as his tombstone stands. Ambrose inscribed the stone with a record of his travels and “a line of doggerel at the end to make us laugh.” Philip often visited the stone while Ambrose was abroad in his last winter, and he sits there now, debating whether or not to read the letter.
The fact that Philip has not visited the granite stone since Rachel arrived at the Ashley estate highlights how dramatically Philip’s priorities have shifted since Ambrose’s death. Philip now takes the kind of comfort he found in Ambrose’s presence in Rachel’s instead.
Philip thinks: “Back in the house, my loyalty was with her.” Here near the granite stone, however, Philip feels Ambrose’s “power [is] strongest.” He decides to open the letter, and finds it is dated three months before Ambrose died. In the letter, Ambrose writes that he is suffering from increasingly bad headaches. He reveals that, at four months, Rachel miscarried the child she had conceived with him, and that ever since she has shown increased “recklessness with money” and “a tendency to evasion, [and] to lies.” Ambrose even suspects that Rachel is having an affair with Signor Rainaldi.
Ambrose’s letter provides important context for Rachel’s character. Nowhere else in the novel is Rachel’s miscarriage mentioned, although Rachel will later reference the fact that she cannot have children. The fact that Rachel’s loss is only briefly canvassed in Ambrose’s letter stresses the impossibility of knowing and understanding the suffering of others. Even Ambrose doesn’t elaborate on his grief at the loss, indicating another way in which written letters are only a partial glimpse into the inner life of their author.
Ambrose is particularly disturbed by recent inquiries Rainaldi has been making about Ambrose’s will. Ambrose reveals in the letter that he has drawn up an alternate will that bequeaths the Ashley house and estate to Rachel during her lifetime, with the caveat that Philip be in control of running the state, and that possession pass to him upon Rachel’s death. Ambrose has left this will unsigned because he is worried about Rachel’s spending habits. However, he cannot shake the feeling that Rainaldi and Rachel have been discussing the will behind his back.
This passage introduces Ambrose’s unsigned, alternate will, which will feature heavily in the coming chapters of the novel. Additionally, it is noteworthy that Ambrose can’t bring himself to solely accuse Rachel of plotting against him. Clearly, he does not have a problem with imagining Rachel being a devious person, but it seems he is incapable of assigning her the agency of plotting something on her own. This points to the way in which society underestimates women even as it harshly critiques and judges them.
Ambrose concludes the letter by describing the symptoms of his headaches, which are many, and which he does not recall his father (who died of a brain tumor) experiencing. Ambrose is obsessed by a single thought: “Are they [Rachel and Rainaldi] trying to poison me?”
This becomes the central question of the novel from this point onward. Though he is able to put it out of his mind while he still believes Rachel to be in love with him, Philip will ultimately become completely unraveled by the possibility that Rachel is a murderer.
Philip refolds Ambrose’s letter, places it in his pocketbook, and buries the book in a hole under the granite slab. Philip returns to the house, where he is immediately confronted by terrible news from Seecombe. Don, the retriever, has been injured; a large slab fell on him from the construction on the roof, and he is now paralyzed.
Philip’s decision to bury the letter rather than destroy it implies that he has not entirely dismissed Ambrose’s claims. However, Philip would rather not think about Rachel’s guilt—which makes sense given his shortsightedness as a character.
Rachel is in the library tending to Don. She is distraught, and Philip finds he is not thinking of “the letter buried deep beneath the granite slab, nor of poor Don so soon to die.” All he can think is that this is the first time Rachel has shown sorrow “not for Ambrose,” but for him.
Don’s impending death is important because of how closely it occurs to Philip’s burial of the letter. The death of Philip’s beloved dog seems an ominous sign regarding Philip’s decision to ignore the past. Additionally, the fact that Philip is more touched by Rachel’s sympathy for him than by the death of a dog he has had since he was a child shows how completely fixated Philip has become on Rachel.