It’s noon, and Sam is waiting impatiently in the kitchen. The cook says that Charles isn’t himself. She’s irritated with Sam, who keeps hinting at bad news but refuses to say what it is. Sam is irritated because Charles forgot to dismiss him the night before, so he waited up until Charles got home after midnight and spoke to him angrily. Charles threw his clothes at Sam and went upstairs. Sam tells the cook that Charles was drunk. He again suggests that many unimaginable things have happened. The bell finally rings, and Sam heads up to Charles.
In spite of his sympathy for a lower-class woman in the previous chapter, Charles again displays his disregard for the welfare of his servant. Sam might not know exactly where Charles was the night before, but he can tell that Charles is unraveling—first there was his meeting with Sarah in the barn, and now his strange attitude. Sam also knows that Charles acting erratically can only be bad for Sam himself.
Charles has a hangover, but he remembers everything. After he vomited, the prostitute got him into a chair, where he threw up again, apologizing at the same time. She was very understanding. Eventually he said he needed to go home, and she went to get him a cab. He felt relieved that he hadn’t slept with her, and he smiled.
Strangely, the prostitute becomes almost a mother-figure here, taking care of Charles in his illness. Charles seems to feel some sort of moral victory in not having slept with her, which suggests that his illness was also a way to avoid doing so.
Then the little girl began crying loudly. Charles looked out the window, but the prostitute must have gone far to find a cab. Someone shouted through the wall, so Charles went into the other room, where there was a small bed in the corner. He told the child to hush, but his voice only frightened her. Finally he patted her head, and she grabbed his fingers. She continued to scream, so he dangled his watch over her. She quieted and grabbed it. When the watch got lost in the sheets, the child began to cry again, so Charles picked her up and sat down, dangling the watch in front of her. She became happy.
This is one of the most tender moments of the book, as Charles comforts a child born into a life that can only be hard, a life that he himself has just taken advantage of. The child’s complete innocence contrasts with the lewdness of what goes on in the other room. The fact that she plays with Charles’s watch seems to reference Fowles’s own way of toying with the linearity of time and history in the novel. This scene also anticipates the later one with Lalage.
Charles thought how strange it was that this was how his wild night ended. He smiled, regaining his faith in himself. Earlier, with Sir Tom, he had felt like he was living in the present. Now, he saw that time isn’t like a road, as people think, with everything visible; but instead a room, with the present too close to perceive. His surroundings and the baby all felt friendly, keeping away the nightmare of empty space. He felt that he could face the emptiness of his future, because he would always be able to find moments of peace like this.
As the child plays with his watch, Charles is freed from his sense of linear time marching on to some inevitable, grim future. It’s impossible to understand the moment that one is in until later, and it’s impossible to see the future. Charles’s reflections on time also reflect on the project of the novel to use the present to understand the past and the past to understand the present.
The prostitute returned and was frightened, then relieved, to find Charles with her daughter. He gave her the child and left five pounds on the table while she put her daughter back to bed. She ran out to him in the cab, looking confused, then thanked him with tears in her eyes. He said she was brave and kind, then left.
Charles ends up respecting the prostitute more than he respects many people, even though his culture makes a show of despising women who sell their bodies. What could have been routine debauchery ends up leaving a positive mark on both of them.