Charles returns the key to the curate at his house. When the man insists he wants to help Charles further, Charles realizes he’s inviting him to confession, and his religion leans towards Catholicism. Charles decides his own new vision of religion isn’t any more foolish than the curate’s. He’ll never go back to organized religion.
Anglican Victorians feel very suspicious of, and even hostile to, Catholics, so in some sense this curate is a fellow rebel. Charles may have just created his own unique vision of religion, but not everyone in this country is a conventional Anglican.
A modern man would have returned immediately to Sarah, but Charles feels he must end his other obligations first. He begins to see why Sarah has deceived him. She knew that he didn’t understand how much he loved her, and she acted as she did in order to make him see clearly. Once he did, she tested him, and he failed. He admires her self-sacrifice and wishes he had refused to let her go. Modern people must always remember that the Victorians see the soul as more real than the body, so they essentially have two minds. This is clear in numerous trends of literature, politics, and science, which often swing between extremes. Much more can be learned from the edits to Mill or Hardy’s autobiographies than from the published versions. The Victorians are masters of concealment and make their false public lives seem like the only truth.
Charles reasons himself out of believing that Sarah is a manipulative liar, and into believing that she’s infinitely wise and perceptive, particularly when it comes to him. It’s not entirely clear which of these views is correct, and perhaps the truth is somewhere in between. In fact, perhaps the point of Sarah as a character is that she’s to be constantly analyzed but never completely understood. Charles is evidence of the dualistic Victorian personality that Fowles proposes here; he presents a different self in public than that which roils inside him. Sarah, however, not belonging to her time, is far more complicated.
Charles has at least two minds. Walking back to his hotel, he thinks about what he’ll tell Sarah to make her confess that she needs him. Sam is standing at the door of the inn, and Charles tells him he got lost. He asks for a bath, then uses it to try to rub the blood out of his clothes. He makes them look like he carelessly tossed them over the edge of the tub, and Sam takes them.
The mistake that Charles begins to make here, and will make throughout the rest of the book, is in believing that Sarah does need him. This is a classic male mistake to make about a woman. This scene employs dramatic irony, as the reader knows that Sam already knows where Charles was.
Charles now writes a letter to Sarah. He says he feels both that he knows her intimately and that he doesn’t know her at all, which is why he acted as he did that evening. He intends to break his engagement, but it’s not her fault. He’s been doubting its wisdom for a while, and he can’t marry Ernestina because he doesn’t agree with the state of society. Once he goes to Lyme and speaks to her tomorrow, he will think only of Sarah. He doesn’t believe she’ll try to resist him. His intentions are entirely honorable now, and he can think only of her. It takes Charles a while to write this, and he decides to wait until morning to send it.
After trying to distance himself from Sarah for the entirety of the book, Charles is finally actively pursuing her. In steering him into this position, Sarah has gained power over him, but now Charles frames his love for her in a way that assumes, in his male way, that he has the power in the situation. He fails to acknowledge that the change in his point of view on society is entirely due to Sarah, and he seems to feel that he’s claiming her as his rightful property.
Charles feels like a stranger to himself, but he feels that he’s done something brave and unique. Furthermore, he feels like he’s traveling as he wanted to, and he imagines Sarah being happy. He’s worried about Sam, but he can always fire him. The next morning, Charles tells him to take the letter to Sarah, and if there’s no answer within ten minutes, he can return to the hotel. They’re going to go to Lyme that day, but return that night. Sam is surprised to hear this, but Charles won’t explain. Going downstairs, Sam decides he needs information. He’s worried that they’re only staying the day in Lyme. He examines the seal on the envelope and is disappointed to find that it’s wax.
This letter is Charles’s declaration of independence from the conventions of a society that has trapped him all his life. He again carelessly assumes that his life is of far more value than Sam’s, and he fails to account for Sam’s impulses of self-preservation. Sam has guessed most of the truth—he suspects that Charles is abandoning Ernestina for Sarah, and this only spells disaster for Sam himself, as he’ll have to leave Charles’s employ to be with Mary, and Charles won’t give him the money to start a shop.
When Sam returns, he tells Charles that there was no answer to his letter. The carriage is ready for them. When Sam leaves, Charles makes a gesture of triumph. Last night he eventually added a postscript to the letter, saying that he’s including a brooch (which he intended to give to Ernestina). If she accepts his apologies, she should keep the brooch. If she refuses, she should send it back to him.
Sam incorrectly assumes that receiving no answer to his letter will make Charles give Sarah up, so he hasn’t delivered it. Ironically, receiving no answer actually confirms Charles’s decision to break his engagement. The brooch, which in the first ending he gave to Ernestina, symbolizes his choice between two fates.
Sam is outside the door of Aunt Tranter’s kitchen, talking to Mary, who’s flabbergasted by what he’s telling her. She asks what Ernestina will do, and Sam asks what they’ll do, because he loves her. Mary begins to despair, but Sam says he doesn’t care about their employers anymore. He’ll leave Charles to be with Mary and take whatever job he can get. Mary points out that Charles won’t give him the money he needs. Sam says Charles doesn’t have it anyway, but he knows someone who does.
Charles’s decision to claim his freedom is forcing Sam to embrace the dangers of freedom as well, by striking out for himself. In some sense, Charles is getting his just deserts: he’s never cared about Sam’s fate for more than a few minutes at a time, and now Sam is giving him the same treatment in return. In fact, Sam is setting out to ruin Charles in order to get the money he needs.