As Charles walks back to Lyme, he feels that he’s been very foolish, but he’s escaped the consequences, which makes him feel exhilarated. He’s confident that his motives have been good, and he’s managed to help Sarah. Now, of course, he must remove himself from her situation. If he hadn’t been sure of his own intelligence and free will, he never would have risked acting as he did. His free will will allow him to suppress his attraction to Sarah and deny her any more private meetings. Aunt Tranter will handle everything, and Charles won’t tell Ernestina what happened. He decides that Sarah’s unpredictability made her attractive. He doesn’t realize that she has passion and imagination, because the Victorian age doesn’t allow them. Charles’s greatest weakness is not to recognize these qualities.
Charles refuses to acknowledge that his actions in regard to Sarah have been at all due to his attraction to her; he instead takes the view that he has been in rational control of his actions at all times. At this point, he equates free will to having the self control that allows him to obey society’s demands, but his understanding of free will will shift as he begins to rebel against society. If Charles could understand that Sarah has passion and imagination, he might understand her motives better—she wants to seduce him, and she can tell lies to do so. Sarah is once again positioned as an anomaly in her time period.
When Charles arrives at his rooms, he has a telegram from his uncle, Sir Robert, summoning him to his estate, Winsyatt. Charles is thrilled not to have to lie to Ernestina about his whereabouts. He’ll have to leave immediately and take a train from Exeter the next morning. He orders a carriage and walks to Aunt Tranter’s house. Ernestina is irritated that he’s being called away so abruptly.
Charles is essentially feeling glad that he gets to escape from his fiancée, further demonstrating the weakness of their relationship. He thinks that his departure will distract Ernestina from any topics that could somehow lead to his meetings with Sarah.
Ernestina has visited Winsyatt and didn’t much like Sir Robert, because she was being inspected, Sir Robert has bad manners, the house is old-fashioned, she was jealous of Charles’s relationship with his uncle, and she was scared. She felt looked down on by the neighboring ladies who came to meet her. She imagined all the ways that she would change the decorations when Winsyatt belonged to her and Charles. She hid the extent of her dislike for the house and the uncle. As a child of wealthy parents, her only talent is spending money.
Ernestina seems to have particularly felt her class difference from Charles at Winsyatt; she felt that Charles’s aristocratic uncle and his friends saw her as lesser for being “new money.” Perhaps it was part of her defense mechanism to dislike Sir Robert and his house, as it allowed her to preserve her sense of superiority in the face of those who felt superior to her.
Charles assures Ernestina that he’ll be back soon. Sir Robert has hinted that they might move into Winsyatt after their marriage and live in the east wing. Charles knows that Ernestina wouldn’t like this very much. But Sir Robert has also hinted that he might find a smaller home for his old age. Charles guesses that his uncle is either going to offer him a manor house in the village, or Winsyatt itself. He’ll be happy with either, as long as he doesn’t have to live with Sir Robert.
At this point in the book, Charles still has every confidence in himself, not only in his dealings with Sarah, but also in his future and his class status. He’ll inherit his uncle’s estate and continue in the aristocratic tradition of his family while advancing Ernestina’s place in the world.
Charles tells Ernestina his suspicions and asks how he should respond. He’ll take whichever house Ernestina wants, or neither, if she doesn’t want them. Ernestina imagines herself a lady in Winsyatt. She questions Charles about the manor house and implies that it’s probably old and cramped. Charles confirms that she wants Winsyatt, and agrees that she can redo it however she wants. When he leaves, Ernestina pulls out her catalogs.
Charles and Ernestina are so privileged that they think nothing of the gift of a house—they can take it or leave it without feeling they’ve gained or lost anything major. This is an exaggerated case of counting chickens before they hatch. Charles is overconfident in his place in the world and Ernestina is already living in her imagined future.