Dowell describes the circumstances at Nauheim under which he and Florence met the Ashburnhams. It was August, 1904, and Florence had been taking spa baths for a month. At Nauheim, Dowell feels bored and useless; there is nothing whatever to entertain him so he falls into the habit of counting his steps. In the mornings, he would walk Florence to the bath. One morning, he remembers that she stood at the door and turned back, looking beautiful and giving him a little coquettish smile. Dowell gets angry at the memory of this moment. He wonders why, for whose benefit, she should ever have done such a thing. He says again that his life was so boring, and that his boredom explains why he remembers all the details of their time at the hotel.
He first meets the Ashburnhams at dinner one night in the dining room. Captain Ashburnham is seated at a table that is not very desirable. When Leonora breezes in from another room with Florence, she insists that they all sit at one table together.
The rest of this section involves Dowell's first impressions of Edward and Leonora. Dowell thinks Edward to be extraordinarily good-looking, with fair hair and a perfect uniform. Edward's conversation revolves around where to get the best soap, the best brandy, the best of everything. For a moment Dowell wonders what all the women see in him. Then he surmises that, like all good soldiers, Edward must be a sentimentalist, someone who, when in the company of women, discusses such things as constancy, courage, bravery, and honor. Such sentimental yearning, Dowell concludes, must be attractive to women.
Dowell is first surprised by Leonora's gaiety. She can call total strangers "nice people." He comments that she does not look her best in evening wear, rather like a "white marble bust" emerging from a "black Wedgwood vase." Leonora seems slightly cold toward Dowell, as if one's lips would chill if he kissed her. Though he claims that even these nine years later he loves Leonora and would lay down his life for her, Dowell remembers being slightly offended at the way she first looked at him that night—as if he and not Florence is the invalid.
Dowell describes the tranquility of their life together. Because it was assumed that they were all "good people" and that they could all afford anything they wanted, their time was spent drinking wine, throwing yearly parties, and going on small excursions as a group. Reflecting on that period, Dowell comments about how those years were an utter waste of time, when he neither accomplished anything nor learned anything about the Ashburnhams. He concedes that he took everything for granted.
Florence is a great guide to "archaeological expeditions" and she likes nothing more than showing people the window "from which someone looked down upon the murder of someone else." Though she knows a lot of history, Florence is always angered because she can never get the better of Leonora, who seems to already know whatever Florence says. One day, very early in the aquaintance of the two couples, Florence takes them all on an expedition to the city of M— in Prussia. This is the site that holds Martin Luther's original Protest, declaring his followers to be separate from the Catholic Church.