On the voyage to America, an officer named Crayton falls in love with Mademoiselle La Rue. She encourages this despite her engagement to Belcour, and by the end of the trip, he proposes to her. Meanwhile, Charlotte is plagued by seasickness, although Montraville cares for her attentively. Belcour, noticing that La Rue is no longer interested in him, privately decides to pursue Charlotte after Montraville abandons her, knowing that this is his friend’s plan.
The day before the ship arrives in New York, Crayton announces his feelings for Mademoiselle La Rue. Belcour gives the couple his blessing, glad to be rid of her. Seeing this sudden change in plans, Charlotte realizes that Montraville could abandon her just as easily as Belcour abandoned La Rue, and she begins to cry.
They make landfall, and the women are shown to an entertainment house. There, Crayton introduces La Rue and Charlotte to his daughter, Mrs. Beauchamp. When his daughter asks how Charlotte is related to the party, Crayton quietly explains that she is Montraville’s mistress, which inspires the young lady to look at Charlotte with pity. Suddenly self-conscious, Charlotte begins to cry but regains her composure when Montraville arrives.
Charlotte begins to realize that she has been “dreadfully imprudent.” Montraville buys her a cottage outside of New York, and gives her money and a servant. Although she enjoys his visits, he often fails to come when promised. Charlotte is very unhappy in her new life, and the narrator reminds readers that although the girl’s own choices led to her misfortune, her suffering is punishment enough and she should be pitied.
The narrator introduces eighteen-year-old Julia Franklin, a charming, vivacious heiress. One night, Montraville is at a party at Mr. Franklin’s house when a fire destroys the building. Although no one is hurt, there is massive confusion outside the burning building, and an old man approaches Montraville, entrusting him with a box that he should keep for the old man until later. Montraville agrees, but the owner of the box disappears in the crowd. When he does not return for his box in several weeks, Montraville opens it, hoping to find identifying information. Instead, he discovers valuable jewels and a portrait made to be added to a bracelet. The woman in the picture resembles Julia Franklin.
It turns out that Julia is the owner of the jewels and the portrait, which is actually of her mother. When he gives her back the box, Montraville becomes smitten with the young heiress, who is very different from Charlotte. However, he refrains from making advances on Julia; even though he cannot marry Charlotte, he does not want to leave her alone and dishonored in a foreign country. He goes to visit Charlotte that night, and seems on the verge of confessing his infatuation with Julia, but decides not to when Charlotte asks him what is wrong.
Montraville is gone when Charlotte wakes up the next morning, and leaves her a note telling her that he is feeling better but will not be visiting her for a while. Belcour visits the distraught Charlotte and tells her about Julia Franklin, hoping that Charlotte will run away with him to get revenge on Montraville. However, although Charlotte is heartbroken, she refuses to leave him.
Meanwhile, Crayton’s marriage to La Rue has gone badly. He is privately annoyed by her poor manners and lack of virtue, and his friends and family judge him for being with such a loose woman. His daughter, Mrs. Beauchamp, frequently runs into Charlotte as they live in the same neighborhood, and takes pity on the girl. Although some of her friends might look askance on her, she decides to visit Charlotte.
This section exemplifies many of the problems that some critics identify in Charlotte Temple. Rather than spending time dwelling on how Montraville meets Julia, Rowson employs two deus ex machinas to engineer their meeting—first the house fire, and then the mysterious old man who has somehow come into possession of Julia’s valuables.
The author’s reliance on random events unrelated to the plot suggests that she is only interested in developing backstory when it is relevant to the novel’s didactic message about proper conduct for young women. Because the reason for Montraville’s encounter with Julia is not important to Rowson’s moral agenda, she does not spend much time on it, despite the fact that she is very prone to digress when relating the background of Mademoiselle La Rue or Charlotte’s parents, all of whom demonstrate proper or improper sexual conduct.
Letters play an important role in Charlotte Temple, and it is useful to contrast the styles of Montraville’s and Charlotte’s correspondences. In her note to her parents, Charlotte is very flowery and writes in the third person, so that it is not even clear that she was the one who wrote the letter. This speaks to her genteel education as well as her unwillingness to accept responsibility for her actions.
In contrast, Montraville is terse and uses the first person once in his letter to Charlotte at the beginning of Chapter XX. Although his style is not the opposite of Charlotte’s, it does suggest greater awareness of his own responsibility for his actions. His vague excuse for leaving so quickly (“unavoidable business”) also implies a relative lack of attachment compared to Charlotte’s letter to her parents.
Mrs. Beauchamp’s character is developed quickly and economically in these chapters. She feels pity for Charlotte immediately when she finds out the young girl’s situation, but she is unwilling to help or even visit the girl for fear that society will judge her for helping an officer’s mistress. She finally overcomes this concern when she hears Charlotte playing on her harp and singing a sad song. At the time, the harp and singing were both considered the pastimes of noble ladies, and it is notable that Mrs. Beauchamp is only moved by a signifier of an upper-class background. This illustrates the greater compassion and leniency that many people felt for women of the upper classes, even if they made the same bad choices as their poorer counterparts. Although Rowson sometimes seems to condemn this leniency, as in her unflattering portrait of Miss Weatherby, at other times she seems to endorse it. In this case, she passes no judgment on Mrs. Beauchamp for waiting so long to visit Charlotte.