Charlie wakes up feeling happy. He begins imagining life with Honoria, but becomes sad when he remembers Helen, who had not planned to die. He calls Lincoln Peters at the bank where he works to ask whether he can count on being able to take Honoria back to Prague with him, and Lincoln says yes, but that Marion would like to keep legal guardianship over her for another year, to be safe. Charlie agrees to this. Then he goes to an agency to find a governess for Honoria, but he doesn’t meet one that he likes.
Charlie’s optimism about the prospect of rebuilding a family is tinged with sadness at the loss of his wife Helen. Although she is absent from most of his daydreams about family life, here is one of the few places that he expresses grief over losing her. Despite the fact that she seems to have died only a year and a half ago, the general absence of her death from his thoughts perhaps indicates that their marriage didn’t give Charlie the sense of family he desires.
Charlie goes to lunch with Lincoln, where he bemoans the fact that Marion has held such a grudge against him since the night he locked Helen out. Lincoln hesitates before suggesting that the root of Marion’s dislike of Charlie is that she felt there was an injustice to the way that, during the boom years, Charlie had been able to act so irresponsibly without even working and continue to grow wealthier. Lincoln adds that if Charlie comes by his house at six o’clock that night they will all settle the details together.
By admitting that Marion’s resentment of Charlie is based in part on his wealth, Lincoln highlights one of the story’s most prominent themes: class. Marion doesn’t simply despise wealth. Her displeasure is more about the arrogance, entitlement, and superiority that often come with wealth.
When he returns to his hotel, Charlie finds a letter waiting for him from Lorraine Quarrles. She writes that he behaved so strangely toward her the other day that she wondered whether she had done anything to offend him. She writes that she thinks about him “too much,” and reminisces about a night when she and Charlie stole a butcher’s tricycle. She says that “everybody seems so old lately,” but that she doesn’t feel old. Then she proposes they meet, and says she’ll be at the Ritz at five o’clock.
Lorraine’s letter arrives at a sensitive time for Charlie—he has just secured permission to take his daughter back to Prague—and it therefore threatens to destabilize the situation. Because Charlie finds Lorraine very attractive—and because she is a figure from his past who represents the indulgence of his old lifestyle—she is a temptation for Charlie, testing the authenticity of his transformation.
Charlie can hardly believe he had once behaved so irresponsibly. He remembers it now like a nightmare, and wonders “how many weeks or months of dissipation” it takes for a person to behave that way. Lorraine had always been very attractive to him—which had bothered Helen—but now she seems “trite, blurred, worn away.” He has no desire to see her and is glad Alix hasn’t given her his address. His mind turns to the prospect of being together at home with Honoria.
There is a slight implication that perhaps Helen was bothered by Charlie’s relationship with Lorraine because she wondered whether there may have been something between them (perhaps an affair), but Charlie doesn’t say anything about this directly. However, the way Charlie’s mind moves from the subject of Lorraine to Honoria suggests his desires and values truly have shifted radically since he left Paris.
Charlie arrives at the Peters’ home with presents for all of them, and sees that Marion has “accepted the inevitable.” Although Honoria has been told she is leaving, she conceals her joy, and it pleases Charlie to see her tact. When Marion and Charlie are alone for a moment, he speaks to her impulsively, saying that “family quarrels are bitter things” and he wishes they “could be on better terms.” She replies that “some things are hard to forget.” Charlie says he plans to take Honoria in two days, but Marion insists: not before Sunday. Charlie agrees, and asks for his “daily whisky.”
One of the undercurrents of Charlie’s story is that his excessive confidence often leads to a fall, just as the bull market led to a crash. His remark about Marion accepting “the inevitable” is, he will shortly learn, premature in light of the reversal that is about to occur, making it yet another example of Charlie’s hubristic attitude and lack of caution setting him up for failure.
The Peters’ house is warm and feels like a home. Marion and Lincoln are “not dull people,” but they are “very much in the grip of life and circumstances.” Suddenly the doorbell rings, and rings again as a maid opens the door, and in walk Duncan Schaeffer and Lorraine Quarrles, laughing hysterically. Charlie takes a moment to realize how they found the Peters’ address, then introduces them. Marion nods but remains silent, even shrinking away from Duncan and Lorraine, toward the fire. Charlie waits for them to explain themselves.
Fitzgerald never says explicitly that Duncan and Lorraine are drunk, but his descriptions of their hysterical laughter and slurred speech clearly give them away. Their sudden appearance in the very moment when it seems that the story is reaching its resolution is symbolic of the irrepressible and un-erasable nature of the past. Although of course Charlie hadn’t intended for them to appear when they did, he’s not entirely blameless: they found him, after all, because he left the address for Duncan with the barman at the Ritz.
Duncan explains that he and Lorraine came to invite Charlie to dinner. He says they insist that “all this shishi, cagy business” about not having an address to give out must stop. Charlie declines, and tries to move them toward the door, but Lorraine sits down and begins talking to Richard, Marion’s son. Duncan and Lorraine are slurring their words. Charlie says that they should go have dinner and he’ll phone them later, at which point Lorraine becomes unpleasant, saying that they’ll go, but she reminds Charlie of the time he came to her door at 4am and she had been “enough of a sport” to give him a drink. The two leave, visibly angry.
The comment Lorraine makes as she leaves (about giving Charlie a drink at 4am) suggests that there had been more than flirtation between them. Perhaps her comment confirms Fitzgerald’s earlier suggestion that she and Charlie had had an affair. At the very least, it’s an unflattering episode for her to mention as she leaves, as it would hardly seem proper to anyone for a married man to show up unannounced at another woman’s home in the middle of the night. Duncan and Lorraine’s bitterness in this moment reveals their resentment of Charlie for changing, showing that they don’t have his best interests at heart.
Charlie, expressing outrage, exclaims “People I haven’t seen in two years having the colossal nerve—” but before he can finish Marion has stormed out of the room, furious. Lincoln sends the children into the other room to eat dinner, and says to Charlie that Marion can’t stand shocks, and that those “kind of people make her really physically sick.” Charlie explains that he didn’t invite Duncan and Lorraine, but Lincoln responds that it’s “too bad” and it “doesn’t help matters.” Lincoln excuses himself. In the other room, Charlie hears a telephone being picked up, and in a panic he moves out of earshot.
Although Fitzgerald doesn’t state it clearly, it’s likely that he meant for the sound of the phone in the other room to be an indication that Lincoln had called a doctor. It seems as though Marion may have some kind of nervous condition that is aggravated by stressors like the intrusion of two drunken strangers into her home. The recklessness of wealth is again equated with the recklessness of alcohol when Lincoln refers ambiguously to “that kind of people,” since it’s unclear whether he means wealthy people or drunk people.
Lincoln comes back into the room and tells Charlie that Marion is in bad shape, and he thinks it best to call off dinner. Charlie asks if she has changed her mind about Honoria, but Lincoln doesn’t give a clear response, saying only that Marion is feeling pretty bitter and he doesn’t know. He instructs Charlie to call him the next day at the bank. Charlie says goodbye to Honoria, and then, “trying to conciliate something,” he says “Good night, dear children.”
Although Lincoln doesn’t say so directly, he seems to think that the episode has sabotaged Charlie’s chances of taking Honoria back to Prague with him. The fact that Charlie leaves with a conciliatory tone suggests that he’s already aware that he has lost, and there’s little he can do to help the situation now.