When Freddy, George, and Mr. Beebe go to the Sacred Lake in the novel's twelfth chapter, all three take their clothes off to bathe and play in the water. Personifying the clothes that lie on the bank, the narrator juxtaposes their uninhibitedness with the encumbering societal expectations that characters wrestle with throughout the novel:
And all the time three little bundles lay discreetly on the sward, proclaiming: ‘No. We are what matters. Without us shall no enterprise begin. To us shall all flesh turn in the end.'
The words spoken by the clothes invokes an earlier part of the chapter, when Freddy and Mr. Beebe discover an inscription on Mr. Emerson's wardrobe that says, "Mistrust all enterprises that require new clothes." This inscription is a citation of Henry David Thoreau's Walden. Thoreau, a transcendentalist, believed in leading a simple life that is in touch with nature. Mr. Emerson (whose name is likely a reference to Ralph Waldo Emerson, another transcendentalist) shares Thoreau's conviction that humans should put nature above society. Right before the men set out for the Sacred Lake, Mr. Emerson says that we will again enter the Garden of Eden once we "no longer despise our bodies."
At the Sacred Lake (which itself seems to be an allusion to Thoureau's Walden Pond), Freddy, George, and Mr. Beebe reveal that it is quite possible to not despise one's body—at least as long as one is free from society's scrutiny. The words spoken by the clothes simultaneously form part of a joke, on the part of the narrator, and foreshadow the abrupt end to their carefree romping. When society appears in the shape of Lucy, Cecil, and Mrs. Honeychurch, the three men are forced to put their clothes back on.
However, George does not bother to completely get dressed before facing society. The narrator writes that George regards himself as dressed, but specifies that he is "barefoot, bare-chested, radiant and personable against the shadowy woods" when he calls out to Lucy. This is the first time they see each other since their kiss in Fiesole. In this moment, George, who is already associated with nature and uninhibited passion, stands up to the bundle of clothes and shows that enterprise can begin without clothes—that his flesh will not, in the end, turn to a discreet bundle of clothes.