Over the next two days, Charles avoids thinking about paleontology or Sarah. But then Ernestina gets a migraine, so he has a free afternoon. It’s a dull, gray day, and he doesn’t feel like doing anything except perhaps traveling, which would provide a delicious sense of freedom. He walks to Ware Commons, though he’s determined not to talk to Sarah if he comes upon her, which he doesn’t think he will. Charles enters a grove of gigantic ash trees, which make him feel small. Soon he finds a worn test, and he searches along the foot of the bluffs for more. He pushes through a tunnel of ivy and begins to scrutinize the flint in a clearing. After a while he hears a stone drop, but he sees nothing. Then he senses someone’s presence and turns around.
Charles is beginning to crave freedom, which also means he feels confined in his present life with Ernestina. Ware Commons is beginning to mean freedom for him, just as it does for Sarah. Furthermore, paleontology is beginning to be associated with Sarah, and so both cause him complicated feelings. The presence of fossils in Ware Commons both makes the past feel immediate and suggests that it’s a place where change can be traced; indeed, it’s the location of many of the change-inducing moments for Charles and Sarah.
Sarah is standing by the tunnel of ivy. Charles almost feels frightened that she appeared so silently. It seems she has followed him on purpose. He greets her, and she says that she saw him passing by. She looks slightly wild, and he wonders whether she is rather mad. He asks if she has something to tell him, but she just stares at him. A shaft of sunlight is lighting her face and making her look very beautiful. Charles remembers hearing that a peasant in the Pyrenees claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary looking just like this.
Once again, Sarah is portrayed as bordering on supernatural. In fact, in this case Charles seems to see her as almost holy in her beauty, a comparison that demonstrates Fowles’s—and Charles’s—willingness to blaspheme. Comparing Sarah, the “fallen woman,” to the Virgin Mary erases the sexual aspect of both of their identities, even though both are defined in large part by their sexual experience, or lack thereof.
To Charles’s surprise, Sarah takes two excellent tests out of her pockets. She offers them to him, and when he takes them, their hands touch. He thanks her. She asks whether they used to be marine shells, and he explains their features to her. He realizes that she’s sane after all. He says he’s about to head back to Lyme, but Sarah says she wants to thank him for offering her help the other day. He makes to leave, and she says she shouldn’t have followed him. Charles moves to leave again, but he glances back at her, and she’s looking at him with an intense anguish. She says she has no one to help her. He mentions Mrs. Tranter, but Sarah says she doesn’t need kindness. Charles says it would not be proper for him to take a further interest in her.
In courting Charles, Ernestina set herself apart from other women by not even pretending to be interested in paleontology. Sarah, however, really does seem interested in the fossils. The fact that Charles continuously wavers on the subject of whether or not Sarah is sane emphasizes just how different she is from everyone around her; her way of being in the world is somehow off. This is the first time Sarah has willingly spoken to Charles, even pursued him. But now that he has recognized his feelings for her, he’s trying to keep his distance.
Charles asks whether Sarah has considered his suggestion to leave Lyme. She implies that she would become a prostitute if she went to London. Charles blushes. Sarah says she’s weak and has sinned. This admission makes him judge her more harshly again, but he also feels strangely flattered. He asks whether anyone else knows that the Frenchman is married, and she says they don’t. As Charles stares at Sarah, their relationship becomes less objective and more personal in his mind. It makes him uncomfortable, and he says he doesn’t understand why she’s confided in him.
In Victorian England, many women who have been sexually compromised or are without resources are forced to resort to prostitution to survive. Even though Charles prides himself on being open-minded, he nonetheless is scandalized by Sarah’s relatively frank—though not actually that frank—talk about her own sexuality. Charles feels himself getting drawn into a closer connection with Sarah, which he was trying to avoid.
Sarah says that Charles is an educated and well-traveled gentleman, whereas the other people around her are supposedly good Christians but seem very cruel and stupid. She believes that there must be people who can understand that she doesn’t deserve her suffering. Charles feels she is proving that her intelligence goes beyond convention. She says her life is a nightmare, and she can’t understand her crime. Charles wants to escape but can’t. She asks why she wasn’t born as Ernestina instead. Charles feels she has gone too far. He says he can’t help her, but she refuses to believe it.
Sarah vocalizes something that Fowles emphasizes throughout the book—the hypocrisy of people whose religion is supposed to make them good. She has sensed that Charles is more open-minded than his peers. Sarah slightly shifts the story that is told about her; she’s miserable not because she’s pining for a lost love, but because she has encountered so much animosity from a society that she doesn’t fit into. Charles sees this as an unconventional woe.
Women do not contradict men’s opinions the way that Sarah has just done. She seems to be assuming that she’s equal to Charles. He feels insulted, but for some reason he doesn’t leave. He fails to recognize her as a siren because she doesn’t look like one. She worries she’s offended him, and he says again that they can’t continue to meet. Sarah says that she wouldn’t have come to him if she wasn’t desperate. He understands, but says he doesn’t even know what she wants from him.
Sarah naturally acts in a way that a more modern woman would, and Charles’s reaction shows how much he does belong to his age. A siren is a Greek monster in the shape of a woman who lures sailors to their death. Thus, comparing Sarah to a siren implies that she’s purposefully trying to seduce and ruin Charles. Whether this is true will be a question throughout the book.
Sarah says she wants to tell Charles what happened to her the previous year. He falls back into convention and seems disapproving. He’s about to leave, but Sarah falls to her knees. Charles can only imagine with horror what anyone watching might think, but Sarah seems calm. She says she’ll go mad if no one helps her, and she has no one but him. Charles makes her stand up and leads her into the ivy. He says he has no choice—he can’t help her. Sarah asks only that he meet her once more. She’ll come to this place every afternoon. She feels that he understands more than anyone else in Lyme. Recently she was almost overcome by madness, and she almost came to his lodging to find him.
Up until now, Sarah’s story has only been told by other people, and her desire to tell her own story signals a desire for increased control. The simple idea of telling her story becomes an almost irrationally weighted situation—Sarah acts so desperate that Charles also becomes overwrought. Just as characters debate throughout the book whether Sarah is mad or not, she herself suggests here that she’s on the edge of madness, adding to her outsider status. Meanwhile, Charles acts like quite the conservative Victorian man.
Charles thinks Sarah is threatening him with scandal, but she denies it. She is filled with despair and has no one to talk to. Charles wants only to escape, and he says he has to leave and can’t return to meet her. He wishes she would talk to Mrs. Tranter instead. She’s very insistent, but Charles continues to refuse to meet her. However, Charles almost becomes different people depending on whom he’s talking to. This can be seen as Darwin’s cryptic coloration, meaning that Charles changes to blend with his surroundings. It can also be seen as a way of ignoring one’s own repression. Women like Ernestina encourage this distance from reality, but Sarah seems to urge a deeper kind of honesty.
Charles was eager enough to talk to Sarah when she didn’t demand anything from him, but now he’s overwhelmed with a sense of propriety. The mention of cryptic coloration is one example of how Fowles applies Darwin’s theories of evolution to the characters’ lives in ways that remind the reader that humans are animals too, and subject to the same laws of nature as Charles’s fossils. From this perspective, both Charles and Sarah act as they do only because they’re fighting to survive in their society.
Sarah asks that Charles meet her for just an hour. She says that she would do whatever he advised after that. She understands that they would have to stop meeting. The day is getting colder, and Charles feels like he’s on the edge of a cliff and he can’t figure out how he got here, but he agrees. Sarah thanks him. Charles bows and then stumbles away through the ivy like a startled deer. He heads back to Lyme, thinking that he made many mistakes in the interaction. He knows he’s moving into forbidden social territory. It seems like when he’s with Sarah, he’s blind to her danger. He knows he won’t tell Ernestina anything, and he feels ashamed.
Sarah is either so desperate for a chance to tell her story to a sympathetic ear that she’ll agree to anything, or she knows that telling Charles her story will make it harder for him to let her go. Until this point, the two of them have never arranged to meet; this forthcoming meeting, particularly as it will take place on Ware Commons, gives their relationship a much more illicit flavor. Sarah is already succeeding in making Charles abandon the rules he has known.