Aunt Tranter comes home to disaster. Mary greets her with distress, and Aunt Tranter runs upstairs, where she finds Dr. Grogan. He tells her what has happened. She can’t believe Charles would do such a thing. Ernestina refuses to say what he told her. Aunt Tranter begins to cry, and Dr. Grogan comforts her. Aunt Tranter thinks she’ll be blamed, but Dr. Grogan says he’ll telegraph Ernestina’s mother. He tells her to keep watch over Ernestina, but let her do as she likes. Aunt Tranter can’t imagine she’ll ever recover, but Grogan assures her she will. Aunt Tranter guesses there’s another woman involved. Dr. Grogan neither confirms nor denies this. Aunt Tranter wants to go talk to Charles, but Grogan promises to rake him over the coals for her.
This is a scene of domestic disaster, the Victorian home torn apart. Grogan is in an awkward position here, as he knows more than Ernestina and Aunt Tranter do about the truth of the situation, and he doesn’t support it, but he can’t reveal it. Ernestina’s refusal to speak about her interaction with Charles indicates the depth of her shame. Furthermore, Aunt Tranter’s sense that Ernestina will never get over this suggests how bound up in marriage and propriety the Victorian woman’s life is.
When Grogan leaves, Mrs. Tranter goes up to Ernestina’s room, where Mary is sitting with her. Ernestina is asleep, looking very peaceful. Mrs. Tranter notices that Mary looks miserable, and she beckons her outside and asks what happened. Mary says that Ernestina fainted when Charles was there and when she came to she wouldn’t speak. When Mary got her up to her room she became hysterical until Grogan calmed her down. She only spoke to ask where Charles was. Mrs. Tranter hugs Mary to comfort her, which isn’t conventional, but the butler of heaven certainly wouldn’t shut her out.
Once again, Mrs. Tranter’s treatment of Mary contrasts with Charles’s treatment of Sam. Though she’s unconventional in just how much compassion she shows towards Mary, Fowles points out that this attitude is far better than Mrs. Poulteney’s cruelty. Fowles doesn’t glorify Charles’s departure from society; instead he shows just how much pain it causes to the people around him, and the reader must ask whether it’s worth it.
When Mary stops crying, she says that Sam has quit and they don’t know what they’ll do. She explains that Sam knew Charles was going to break his engagement, but they were too scared to tell Mrs. Tranter. Mrs. Tranter checks on Ernestina. She asks whether Sam and Mary love each other, and Mary confirms that they do. Mrs. Tranter promises she’ll find Sam a job and Mary won’t have to leave her until she marries. She kisses Mary’s forehead. Mary goes downstairs and runs into Sam’s arms.
Whereas Charles has driven Sam away with his self-centeredness, Mrs. Tranter earns the trust and love of Sam and Mary with her generosity, and they will simultaneously pay her back and punish Charles. In fact, Mrs. Tranter treats Mary almost as one of the family, caring nothing for the difference of status between them and valuing her love of Sam.