In the hotel, Charles knocks on an open door and finds Mrs. Endicott. He asks after Sarah, and Mrs. Endicott says she twisted her ankle on the stairs but won’t see a doctor. She says he can go up to see her, assuming he’s a relative. He says he’s come on business, and lets her believe he’s a lawyer. He asks her to find out if Sarah would rather he come back when she’s better. Remembering Varguennes, Charles feels like it’s improper to meet in private. Mrs. Endicott sends a maid up to Sarah, who sends her back bidding Charles to come up.
Charles thinks of Varguennes in this situation, and the truth is that he’s playing the role of Varguennes in the story that she has told him. He’s seeking Sarah in a hotel as she sought Varguennes, and he’s about to sleep with her as Varguennes (supposedly) did. The narrator hasn’t let the reader see Sarah’s point of view in a while, so the only clue that she might not have twisted her ankle is the bandage she already had in the earlier scene in the hotel.
Charles follows the maid to Sarah’s room and finds her sitting by the fire with her feet up, her legs covered with a blanket. She’s wearing a shawl over a nightgown, and her hair is loose. She looks up at him once and then bows her head. He says he was just passing through, and asks whether he should get a doctor. She says a doctor wouldn’t do anything different than what she’s doing. He can’t stop looking at her in her helplessness. She says she was very foolish to twist her ankle, and he says at least it didn’t happen in the Undercliff. The shabbiness of the room seems embarrassing.
Charles intended to never see Sarah again, and yet here they are. Sarah seems more helpless and innocent than she had at perhaps any other meeting between her and Charles, and yet it will soon become clear that she actually has complete power over the situation. After all, she’s already gotten Charles to return to her. He once reminded her that he would be the only one to know where she was if she got hurt in the Undercliff.
Sarah invites Charles to sit down, which he does. He asks if she’s given Mrs. Tranter her address, but she says she’s only given it to him. After a silence, he says he’s come to discuss that. He examines her again. The firelight makes her look particularly beautiful, and it seems like her mystery is out in the open. He realizes he came because he needed to see her again. He tries to look at the nymphs above the fireplace instead, but when Sarah moves, he looks back at her. She’s crying, and Charles says he shouldn’t have come, but she shakes her head.
Charles tries to advance his old illusion that he wants Sarah to go to Mrs. Tranter for help rather than to him, but Sarah refuses to join him in this narrative. Charles believes that he’s finally seeing the real Sarah after seeking that phantom for so long. Even though he told himself that he had gotten over his feelings for Sarah, he’s beginning to realize that this isn’t true.
As Sarah wipes away tears, Charles feels an extreme sexual lust. He suddenly realizes that he feels the need to see her because he wants to possess her and turn to ashes on her body. He can wait for that satisfaction, but he can’t wait forever. Finally she says she thought she would never see him again. His heart pounds and his hands tremble. He closes his eyes to keep from looking into hers. The silence is awful until the fire sends some coals onto Sarah’s blanket. Charles stamps them out and replaces the blanket over her legs. She puts his hand on hers, and he finally looks into her eyes.
Charles’s desire to metaphorically burn on Sarah’s body suggests that this whole time, he’s sought her out precisely because he wanted her to destroy him, perhaps just as she destroyed her own position in society. This is also the first time that Charles has really acknowledged the degree of sexual desire he has for Sarah. Ironically, even as Charles stamps out the physical coals, they only feed the fire within him.
Sarah’s eyes look grateful and worried and make it clear that she’s waiting. She seems lost. It feels like they look into each other’s eyes forever. Finally their fingers intertwine and Charles kisses her passionately, violently, all over her face. He touches her hair. Then he buries his head in her neck and says they mustn’t do this. She hugs him to her, and he feels like he’s flying. They kiss again, and her foot falls off the stool. She simultaneously turns away from him and strains towards him. He goes to the door to the bedroom and looks into it. Sarah stands and falls towards him. He catches her and her shawl falls away. He presses her against him with a hunger created by everything banned to him.
Although Sarah has orchestrated this situation, Charles is the one who actually initiates their sexual contact. This, along with the fact that he’s a man and thus supposedly more sexual, will make him feel responsible for what happens next. The very fact that society wants to prevent him from having sex with Sarah makes it the one thing he wants more than anything; this is what Fowles meant when he said that the Victorians might have had better sex because they were repressed.
Sarah seems almost to have fainted. Charles carries her into the bedroom and throws her on the bed. He kisses her hand and she touches his face. He runs into the other room and tears off his clothes frantically. He locks the door to the hallway and returns to the bedroom. Her face is hidden by her hair. He falls on top her and kisses her all over while she remains passive. He lifts her nightgown and her legs part; she flinches as he enters her, and then she throws her arms around him. When he lies still, only ninety seconds have passed since he looked into the bedroom.
Even in the throes of passion, Charles is so conditioned by society that he remembers to lock the door so they won’t be found together. This situation wouldn’t even occur in most Victorian novels, but if it did, it certainly wouldn’t be described in the graphic way that Fowles describes it, making this one of the most distinctly modern moments of the book. This climax of the book is also Charles’s sexual climax, showing how intimately connected to sexuality this book is.