Now that he has created a traditional ending, the narrator has to admit that everything in the last two chapters didn’t happen quite the way it seems. Everyone writes fictional futures for themselves that often have an effect on how they actually act, and the last two chapters have been what Charles imagines will happen as he takes the train from London to Exeter. Perhaps the reader has noticed a deterioration of character and writing in the last two chapters, but this is only because Charles feels his story is ending in a disappointing way. Some hostile, indifferent power has lent its weight to Ernestina, and Charles feels he can’t escape it.
Even though a reader holding a physical book can tell that they aren’t at the end, the narrator’s revelation here probably comes as a shock. Though the narrator has been exceptionally transparent about his work up until now, it becomes clear here that he’s not necessarily reliable. This major structural break in the narrative signals that Fowles is trying less to imitate Victorian writing now, and instead using distinctly postmodern techniques of metafiction.
Charles has in fact decided to go through with his marriage. However, he’s also obsessed with the letter Sarah sent. Sending only her address seems so completely her. It also makes Charles choose, and though he partly hates this, it also excites him. In existentialist terms, he’s feeling “the anxiety of freedom”—understanding that being free is terrifying. When Sam asks if they’re staying the night in Exeter, Charles says it’s going to rain, so they’ll stay. After the luggage is loaded onto a carriage, Charles says he’ll walk to the Ship Inn. Sam urges him not to get caught in the rain, but Charles says he’ll be fine and might go to a service at the Cathedral.
Fowles again anachronistically applies twentieth-century philosophy to Charles’s nineteenth-century situation—and yet modern people do undeniably look back at history through modern terms, so perhaps this is more truthful than pretending to write about history in a vacuum. The narrative returns to that one essential decision and will now proceed from that point with Charles having chosen differently than the reader was led to believe.
Once Charles leaves, Sam asks the cab driver if he knows where Endicott’s Family Hotel is, which he does. When they arrive at the Ship Inn, Sam unpacks everything in seven minutes, and then the cabby brings him to another location. Sam tips him badly and hides behind the column of a church. It’s almost night. Before long, Charles appears and asks a boy for directions. Charles seems to hesitate, then finally goes into a house. Sam waits across from Endicott’s Family, but Charles doesn’t come out. After a while he walks away quickly.
Sam secretly looked at the address that Sarah sent Charles, and he guesses correctly that this address is the reason they’re staying the night. Sam is beginning to entirely overstep the propriety of his position as Charles’s servant, which suggests that Sam is already abandoning his lower-class status. Seeing this scene from a spy’s point of view, rather than from Charles’s, makes it seem more illicit.