Part 1, Chapters 5-6 Summary
Dowell hints at Florence and Leonora's duplicity. At first Dowell believed he and Leonora shared an important duty caring for heart patients. Dowell states that Florence was a very good actress. When Dowell fretted about making train connections in Belgium on their way to the spa, he witnessed how quickly Florence could run and was surprised to see his ill wife so agile and energetic, although she did feign exhaustion afterwards.
Leonora was also a good actress, making it appear she and Dowell shared a good friendship. Leonora also went along with Captain Ashburnham's pretense of a heart ailment. Dowell later learned Ashburnham merely used the suggestion of a heart defect to avoid further army assignments.
There were other discrepancies. Dowell refers to the captain as a poor wretch, one Dowell feels little empathy for. The captain was, as he later discovered, Florence's lover for several years. Dowell even blames the captain for Florence's death. Other details Dowell later learned included the fact that Florence was not his first extramarital affair. There was, for example, Maisie Maiden, a submissive woman married to a fellow soldier. When Maisie's husband discovered the affair, he blackmailed Ashburnham. Leonora came to the captain's aid, saving Ashburnham from bankruptcy.
The captain had other affairs with women who demanded expensive jewelry. Ashburnham also gambled, attempting to cover his losses with inscrupulous money lenders. When Leonora discovered his debts, she took over his financial affairs. These events caused hurtful arguments.
Their marriage had been arranged by their parents, Dowell learned. Though the captain had, at times, admired Leonora, he never demonstrated the passion he showed toward other women. Despite this, Dowell blames Leonora for her unhappiness. Leonora's Catholic faith that prevented her from treating her husband as he deserved. Leonora should have divorced Ashburnham and not rescued him financially. She should have watched Ashburnham be reduced to a poor man begging for his living. Then Ashburnham might have asked forgiveness and remained faithful.
However, Leonora could not see beyond the precepts of her religion. Not only did she not insist on a divorce, she invited her husband's supposed mistress, Maisie, to travel with them. In this way, Leonora took on the role of mother. She did so, however, only until she found Maisie coming out of Ashburham's bedroom. Leonora's outburst led Maisie to leave. While packing, Maisie, who truly had a heart ailment, suffered a heart attack and died.