As Charles walks back to his rooms, he thinks of how to phrase a note to Dr. Grogan offering his help in finding Sarah. When he gets to his sitting room, he finds a note from her, asking him to see her that afternoon or the next morning. It says that if he doesn’t come, she’ll never trouble him again. Charles is angry that she’s threatening him, but relieved she’s still alive. When Sam comes in, Charles orders him to find out who left the note and have them come up. Charles thinks of the catastrophe that caused his fossils to form. He realizes that life is parallel. Time is false, and existence is always in the present. Everything is caught in the same machine. Society is only a way of shutting out reality.
Charles believes that Sarah is threatening to kill herself if he doesn’t meet her. He seems to feel that he is experiencing a personal catastrophe that mirrors catastrophes all throughout time; this is the first time he positions himself as a fossil, dead and left behind, rather than as one of the fittest, destined to survive. He begins to deny the idea of progress. Evolution depends on time and can’t improve anything if time is false. Furthermore, Fowles here collapses the differences between the Victorians and his own age, suggesting that fundamental existence never changes.
Sam appears with a hostler, who says that a boy brought the note that morning and hadn’t said who sent it. Charles has Sam lay out his night things. Standing at the window, Charles sees a boy running down the street and into the inn. He senses that this is the boy who brought the note and almost calls out to him. Soon the hostler knocks on the door, bringing a note from the boy, who said the French Lieutenant’s Woman sent it. Sam winks at the hostler as he leaves. Charles says that he’s trying to help an unfortunate woman and is going to surprise Mrs. Tranter with what he’s done. He asks that Sam keep it a secret, and Sam agrees, acting perfectly obedient. As Charles turns away, Sam gives him a strange look.
In this scene, the relationship between Sam and Charles grows tense and weighted. Charles has often dismissed Sam because he’s just a servant, but the relationship between a servant and an aristocrat is so intimate that Charles begins to have to recognize the power Sam has over him. Sam is perceptive and has access to parts of Charles’s life that no one else does, allowing him to begin to guess that something’s up between Charles and Sarah. Though Sam agrees to keep the secret, the reader isn’t convinced that he will.
When Sam leaves, Charles opens the note. Sarah begs him to help her, saying she will be praying all night that he will come. She tells him how to get to the barn where she’s hiding. The note is in French because it’s unsealed, as she must have written it in the Undercliff. Charles can’t believe the risk she’s taking, and the French reminds him of Varguennes. He sees lightning outside, and it’s beginning to rain. He imagines Sarah out in the storm.
Even Sarah’s use of French is a mark of class—she knows Charles will be able to read it because he’s educated, but the lower-class messenger boy won’t. Communicating in French also furthers the likeness between Charles and Varguennes, suggesting that Charles will mirror Varguennes’ actions. The storm is a metaphor for Charles’s own emotions.
Charles paces angrily, and when he stops at the window he remembers what Sarah said about thorn trees walking down the street. He goes to look at his face in the mirror. He feels he must do something, he must prove that he’s strong, not just an ammonite trapped in a disaster. He summons a waiter and orders a drink. When Sam comes up with supper, he finds Charles leaving. He tells Sam to eat the food himself.
Sarah’s metaphor about thorn trees made her point that she needed to stay where people would be bothered by her shame. Charles wants to uphold his self-image as one of the fittest, but he’s beginning to feel like a helpless fossil, and Sarah has brought about this change in him.