Lucy goes to stay with Cecil's family in London, where she receives a letter from Charlotte, forwarded from Windy Corner. Charlotte has found out that the Emersons are moving to Summer Street. Lucy and Charlotte had a falling-out in Rome and have not been on such good terms since then. Charlotte wants Lucy to tell her mother and Cecil about what happened with her and George Emerson in the violets, but Lucy writes back reminding Charlotte that she herself made Lucy promise not to tell her mother.
Cecil and his mother introduce Lucy to the London society that they know, and Lucy realizes that in this urbane, sophisticated world where everyone seems a little bored with everything, she will need to become somewhat estranged from her own past. She plays the piano for her hosts, but refuses to play Beethoven, Cecil's request, and instead plays mournful Schumann. Mrs. Vyse is thrilled with her and asks Cecil to make Lucy "one of us." Lucy has a bad dream that night from which she awakes with a shriek.
Back at Summer Street, Mr. Beebe takes Freddy to call on the Emersons, who are moving into their new house. Their rooms are full of books written by the latest novelists and philosophers, which impresses Freddy. George appears and Freddy invites him for a swim in the forest pool. Mr. Emerson also arrives, speaking philosophically about a return to Nature.
Mr. Beebe accompanies the young men into the woods, awkwardly and unsuccessfully trying to make conversation on such topics as Nature and Italy. George and Mr. Beebe briefly debate whether their lives are ruled by coincidence, as Mr. Beebe suggests, or Fate, as George heavily believes. At the pool, Freddy excitedly strips and jumps in, and George apathetically follows. Mr. Beebe is convinced to join them. They tentatively start a water fight, which escalates until they are running naked around the pool and tossing clothes everywhere.
Suddenly Mrs. Honeychurch, Lucy, and Cecil are seen making their way down the path on the way to visit old Mrs. Butterworth, a neighbor. Cecil tries to take command, but everything is chaotic, with Freddy hiding in the bracken and Mr. Beebe in the pond. George, with only his pants on, greets Lucy, who bows.
Cecil, Lucy, and Mrs. Honeychurch have tea with Mrs. Butterworth, where Lucy reflects that it is impossible to plan ahead for situations. She had been planning to bow when she met George, but the situation and his "shout of the morning star" made her bow seem inappropriate, a meaningless gesture. Cecil is cross with Mrs. Butterworth, whom he despises, while Lucy, aware from Charlotte's teaching that everyone has faults, tries to smooth over her fiancé's curtness.
After tea, Mrs. Honeychurch is upset with Cecil, who behaved rather rudely toward Ms. Butterworth. She doesn't think that Cecil's sophistication and fine upbringing justify his arrogant attitude. Lucy finds that her worlds are beginning to clash as she tries to defend Cecil against her mother. In the process, she mentions Charlotte's letter, which Mrs. Honeychurch asks about again at dinner, inquiring whether Charlotte's boiler has been repaired yet. Despite Lucy and Cecil's objections that they find her tiresome, Mrs. Honeychurch decides to invite Charlotte to Windy Corner. Cecil is insolent and disgusted by the entire conversation. Lucy feels that the ghosts surrounding her trip to Italy are returning.
Though tormented by internal doubts as to what she should do, Lucy handles the external situation with courage. When she meets George at the Rectory, they both put aside shyness and speak of Italy. George seems to be in better spirits than he once was. The narrator of the story intercedes to explain that Lucy think she loves Cecil and is nervous about George, and doesn't realize that the reverse is actually true.
Charlotte arrives, confusing everyone by showing up at the wrong train station, missing Mrs. Honeychurch who was waiting at a different station, and taking a cab to Windy Corners. Once she arrives, Lucy, Cecil, Freddy, Freddy's friend Mr. Floyd, and Minnie try to persuade her not to pay them back for the cab fare, which Freddy paid. A long protracted discussion results in which Freddy and Cecil try to trick Charlotte into paying less, but Minnie intercedes, and finally Lucy goes into the house to get change from a maid. Charlotte follows her and quickly begins asking whether Lucy has told Cecil about George. Lucy objects, saying that George won't present anyone any problems by being a "cad." She tries to excuse his kiss by saying that he was simply carried away in a moment of beauty, and acted irrationally, but that it amounts to nothing. Yet she makes a little slip in her explanation: when telling Charlotte that it makes a difference when you are overcome by someone beautiful, she identifies the person as a he and not a she.
Lucy's music, as Mr. Beebe noticed earlier in the book, is a window into her mood and the workings of her soul. The Beethoven which impressed Mr. Beebe so much in Italy for its sound of victory has now been supplanted, in Cecil's home, with the sad tragic quality of Schumann. Art, a world which is associated in the book with the eternal and magnificent, is seen here to be just as susceptible to human trauma and weakness as the rest of life--it is not a transcendence of dejection but the expression of it. Lucy's bad dreams also show her misgivings about the upcoming life that she will be expected to live.
Mr. Emerson and George believe in the equality of the sexes, and Mr. Emerson in chapter 12 hopes for a time when men and women will be on equal terms. In the world of nature, he seems to suggest, one sex does not dominate the other, and the body is not despised. He states the belief that when people cease to be ashamed of their bodies and men and women are equal, it will euqalequal a return to the garden of Eden, a paradise. Mr. Emerson's words debunk, specifically, the influence of Christian morality, which asserts that the body's urges are sinful and that woman (beginning with Eve) is a temptress and a source of sin.
The bathing scene that follows shows Freddy, George, and Mr. Beebe, all from very different social enclaves, strip down and enter the water. Their bundles of clothes on the bank are the trappings of society, to which they must return; but they are for the moment free to act playfully, like children. In the process, the clothes are thrown around; Freddy has on the clerical waistcoat and George has on Mr. Beebe's hat, and all social categories become so confused as to be meaningless. George becomes cheerful, because for once he can live outside the societal confines that usually limit him, and express joy and be part of beauty without being offensive. The intrusion of Lucy, her mother, and Cecil, quickly brings everything back, and at once the narrative roots itself again in social distinctions.
Lucy has been well taught in handling social situations, but she has not yet learned to know herself. Thus, her knowledge of herself is confined to the way she interacts with others. As a woman, she has not been encouraged to think her own thoughts, but to find her place within a society dominated by men. The course of events that follows, particularly with the Emersons, will help her to realize her true desires. She is too afraid of the things she truly wants to pursuethempursue them, as they force her to revolt against everything she has known thus far.
However, the feelings Lucy has for George do persist, manifesting themselves subconsciously, as in the slip in her speech to Charlotte. She doesn't realize yet, but eventually these feelings will continue to rise, unstoppable, between herself and the restrictions that hold her down.