“After dispatching this letter, Robert had abandoned all thought of assistance from the man who, in the natural course of things, should have been most interested in George’s fate; but now that he found himself advancing every day some step nearer to the end that lay so darkly before him, his mind reverted to this heartlessly indifferent Mr. Harcourt Talboys” (Braddon Chapter 20 online).
This passage depicts the internal conflict of Robert Audley. As he continues his search for the missing George Talboys, Robert remains completely alone in his endeavors. Not even George’s father, the one who should theoretically care most about uncovering George’s disappearance, displays an ounce of worry. In the lines directly preceding these ones, the narrator speaks of Harcourt’s letter to Robert, in which he states his disapproval of George’s marriage to Helen and that he had cut ties with George upon his wedding day. Harcourt proceeds to say that his disappearance is likely a scheme to get Harcourt’s money, as George was broke when he settled down with Helen. As readers, we know this not to be the case, that George’s toils to find gold land him with ample wealth. Nonetheless, this says monuments about George’s support system. Referencing the words of the highlighted passage, the characters surrounding Robert in his hunt for George are “heartlessly indifferent.”
More wording I found particularly interesting was the use of “darkly” as an adverb. This seems like blatant foreshadowing, that George’s fate has been sealed. The line could be easily rewritten to “the end that lay before him…” and make sense, though Braddon chooses to include this important descriptive word. It certainly ties into the rest of the novel, as all of the actions of Lucy Audley happen in the shadows. Perhaps “darkly” carries multiple meanings, referencing not only the book’s emphasis on secrets, but foreshadowing George’s death and Robert’s descent to madness. We already begin to see this narrative of Robert’s madness come to fruition through the threats of Lady Audley and it will be interesting to see how the darkness creeps into the novel exponentially.