The narrative picks up a year later, in the autumn of 1858. During their travels, George has become better at hiding his grief over his lost wife, but he is still profoundly sad. He has not been able to forge a relationship with his son, but is reluctant to take him away from his grandfather. One year after discovering Helen’s death, Robert is planning to travel to Audley Court to take part in the hunting season, as his annual custom. Robert persuades George to accompany him. He learns at the last minute that there will not be room for them at the house, since Alicia reports that Lady Audley has already invited many other guests. They decide to travel to the town of Audley anyways and stay at the inn there, fishing instead of hunting. Before they leave London, Robert puts Alicia’s letter in his desk. On their first evening at the inn, the Audley carriage happens to be passing by and stops outside the inn due to a problem with one of the horses. Robert goes down and greets his uncle, who is in the carriage along with Lucy and Alicia. George remains inside and cannot see Lucy from where he is seated. Robert explains that George is with him, and offers to introduce him to the group; Alicia encourages him to do so, but Lucy implies that she is exhausted, so Sir Michael proposes that the two men join them for dinner the following evening. After the carriage departs, Robert reports to George how struck he is by the beauty of his new aunt. Meanwhile back at Audley Court, Lady Audley discusses with Phoebe how she and her two bear a resemblance to one another. Then she asks Phoebe to go to London the next day and complete a task, stipulating that Phoebe not tell anyone about it. The reader is not told what Lady Audley’s errand is. The next morning, Lady Audley receives a telegram: her old teacher Mrs. Vincent is very ill in London, and wants to see her. Lady Audley and Sir Michael quickly leave for London, leading the dinner to be postponed.
Alicia is impatient to meet George, with the ambition of making Robert jealous by flirting with him. Robert, however, is indifferent to her. With little to do, George and Robert begin to grow bored and decide to return to London. When they tell Alicia that they plan to leave the following day, she expresses regret that they will not have the opportunity to meet Lady Audley, who has not yet returned but has asked after their plans. However, the journey is delayed by a day when Robert falls ill, Towards the evening, he feels better and he and George go over to Audley Court so that Alicia can show them around before they leave. At the house, Alicia plans to show the two men Lady Audley’s suite of rooms, but is informed by Phoebe that Lady Audley took the key to these rooms with her to London. After an interval, Alicia remembers that these chambers can be accessed by a secret passage way. Since the men have expressed a particular desire to see the portraits displayed there, and the two men enter Lady Audley’s dressing room. In one of the connected room, there is a portrait of Lady Audley that highlights her beauty, but also gives her a sinister quality. George seems astonished by the portrait, and leaves the room in silence. As George and Robert are leaving Audley Court, the carriage containing Lady Audley and Sir Michael arrives.
That night, a violent storm occurs. Back at the inn, George is agitated. When Roberts suggests that he is frightened by the storm, George reacts with anger and shuts himself up in his bedroom. The next morning, however, George has regained his good humor. He suggests that they spend one last day in Audley and then return to London on an evening train. Meanwhile, Lady Audley spends the night very distressed, claiming she is terrified by the storm. In the morning she is more composed; she notices that some items are out of place, and finds George’s glove near her portrait, learning about the use of the secret passage from Alicia. Eventually, Robert falls asleep while fishing, and George makes his way to Audley Court. He is told that Lady Audley is walking in a particular part of the grounds. The next piece of information the reader learns is that 90 minutes later, Lady Audley returns to the house, walking not from the direction of the lime tree avenue (i.e. where she was when George called at the house) but rather from the opposite direction. Lady Audley returns to her room, and asks where Phoebe has been for the afternoon. Phoebe explains that she was seated near a window.
Robert wakes up and cannot find George. He expects his friend has gone back to the inn, but is surprised to find that he is not there either. He goes to Audley Court, and learns that George had indeed stopped by the house, but hours earlier, and has not been seen since. Then Robert goes to the railway station to see if anyone has seen George boarding a train. While the railway staff cannot be sure, the description of one man seen boarding an afternoon train seems to match George’s appearance, so Robert decides that George must have headed back to London by himself. Satisfied with this explanation, he decides to spend the evening having dinner at Audley Court.
At dinner, Robert explains that George has abruptly left Audley on his own. He expresses his concerns about George’s happiness and mental health, explaining that George is still very grief-stricken about his late wife. Lady Audley explains her recent trip to London: the telegram that summoned her to the deathbed of her former teacher had not given an address, so she assumed that Mrs. Vincent must still be living at the same place. However, when she and Sir Michael arrived, new people had rented the house and no one knew who had lived there before. Despite Sir Michael’s efforts, she had not been able to locate Mrs. Vincent. A little later, as Lady Audley is playing the piano, Robert notices a bruise on her wrist. When both he and Sir Michael ask where the bruise came from, she says that she tied a piece of ribbon too tightly around her wrist and it left a mark. Robert does not believe this story; he notes that the bruise looks like it was made by fingers grasping her wrist. Through all of this, Robert still feels anxious about George.
Robert returns to London the following day and learns that George has not returned there. He goes directly to Mr. Maldon’s house in case George has gone there to see his son. Although George is not at the house, Mr. Maldon says that he saw George the previous night. George appeared late at night, briefly saw his son, and then explained that he was continuing on to Liverpool to catch a ship departing for Australia. As Robert is about to leave, little Georgey asks about a “pretty lady” who he claims used to visit and give him gifts, including a gold watch. Maldon says he must be referring to the wife of a friend of his. When Maldon goes to put his grandson to bed, Robert is left alone, and looks for a piece of paper with which to light his cigar. He picks up a scrap that turns out to be a part of a telegram. He can make out a message saying that Talboys had gone somewhere the previous night (the name of the place is obscured) and had left from there for Liverpool, to sail back to Australia. Robert is confused as to why this telegram would have been sent if George had been coming in person to explain his journey.
Robert gets back to London at dawn, exhausted and confused. He decides that if he does not hear from Robert the next day, he will go to Liverpool himself. He wakes up the next morning to the sound of knocking, but does not answer the door, assuming that it is the cleaning lady. When he sees her and asks why she knocked rather than using her key, she says she didn’t knock. Robert is frustrated that he may have missed a message about George; after waiting for a few hours, he boards a train to Liverpool. In Liverpool that evening, he learns that a ship did sail for Australia that afternoon. When he asks about passengers, George Talboys’ name is not on the list. He returns to London, increasingly convinced that something bad has happened to George. In order to try to make sense of where George could be, he lists all the major events that had happened since the two had gone to Audley. He places the list in his desk next to the letter from Alicia, in which she had explained that the two could not come to Audley Court. He decides that he will have to return to Audley Court to try and find more information.
The close friendship has been cemented between George and Robert during their travels. However, George is clearly still afflicted by melancholy. His sensitive disposition and strong emotions can sometimes explain erratic behavior, and that works to create confusion in these chapters. Robert is able to brush aside the strange way in which George behaves after seeing the portrait, along with his seemingly bizarre decision to abruptly leave Audley, because George is sometimes moody, and does have a history of running off. Nonetheless, these chapters are full of foreshadowing. In Chapter 7, as soon as Robert and George arrive in the seemingly idyllic country village, the narrator cautions readers that violent crimes, specifically murder, can occur here, just like in urban spaces. One of the trademarks of sensation fiction is that it makes surprising use of setting: rather than having dark secrets and violent crimes take place in far off locations, the genre shows that these can be found anywhere.
Much of the drama of these chapters is encapsulated in the cat-and-mouse game played by Lady Audley to avoid being seen and recognized by George. What seems at first innocent in Alicia's letter–that Lady Audley has invited too many guests for there to be any room for George and Robert–becomes the first in a long string of careful maneuvers. Lady Audley is conveniently too tired to wait for George to come down from the inn and meet the family. Then, she is coincidentally summoned away before the planned dinner can take place. Although readers are not explicitly told that Phoebe's errand involved faking the telegram, the careful narrative structure strongly suggests that this is the case. When readers put together the events that implicate Lady Audley's guilt themselves, because Braddon carefully omits certain details, they become all the more invested in that guilt. Chance also plays a role: if Robert and George had not delayed their return by a day because of Robert feeling ill, they likely would not have seen the portrait and if they had not glimpsed it, George would have gone back to London ignorant of Lady Audley's true identity.
The scene in which Robert and George enter Lady Audley's dressing room and look at her portrait is significant both for developing themes and plot. In terms of plot, it confirms for George that Helen Talboys and Lucy Audley are the same woman: a shocking and horrifying discovery for him. Thematically, it is important that the portrait is located in the rooms where Lady Audley keeps her clothes, jewelry, and cosmetics. These are all tools that she uses to present a beautiful appearance; however, they are also artificial and deceptive. They allow her to cultivate an external beauty that distracts people around her from her true inner self. The painting reveals her as she truly is: not only confirming her identity to George, but also implying the sinister and dangerous aspects of her personality. That art is capable of doing this might reflect the aims of what Braddon hopes to achieve with her novel: using literature rather than painting to reveal how people can hide aspects of their personalities.
The violent storm that takes place the night after George and Robert see the portrait is an example of pathetic fallacy, in which the natural world reflects the inner experiences of characters. Both Lady Audley and George are highly agitated and experiencing strong emotions. In contrast, however, the representations of the events of the following day are very subdued. It is quiet and peaceful; so peaceful that Robert dozes off. Details are withheld to cultivate maximum suspense: there is presumably some encounter between George and Lady Audley, but readers are not privy to it. The possibility for future complications is also created by the knowledge that Phoebe sees something from her position at the window, although it is left unclear what exactly she witnesses.
Even before Robert has become fully suspicious, clues start to accumulate that suggest there is something sinister about George's disappearance. The bruises on Lady Audley's arm clearly don't align with her story, and the presence of the telegram at Captain Maldon's home is also out of step with what he has told Robert. Both of these clues begin the pattern of one apparent narrative of events being contradicted by evidence, making it easy to suspicious of various characters and hard to know who is lying, and who is telling the truth. The emphasis on it being possible to make people believe things that are not true by creating a compelling story is particularly interesting in a work of fiction: even as they can see through the lies of specific characters, readers are also being seduced by a fabricated story within the world of the novel.