Charles and Sarah continue their discussion. He strongly advises her to leave Lyme Regis, because she can never fit in there (146). She seems to be persuaded to go, and Charles says that he will pay for her travel. They hear a laugh, and follow its sound - below them are Mary and Sam, walking together and kissing, obviously in love. Sarah smiles for the first time in the novel, and Charles feels a strong urge to reach out and touch her. He resists this impulse, and tells her that they must never meet alone again. The two part ways.
Charles congratulates himself for having "escaped unscathed" from his encounter with Sarah, and he resolves to now "remove himself...for good" from her influence (152). When he arrives back at his hotel, he has a telegram from his uncle, urgently requesting his presence. Charles thinks his uncle is about to offer to bequeath him one of the family houses. Ernestina, who doesn't much like Uncle Robert, reluctantly agrees to accept the offer.
Charles arrives back at the house where he grew up, and is greeted by the laundry maid who was a substitute mother for him during his childhood. He is pleased to be back, and feels as if he has been "call[ed] to the throne" of his inheritance (158). There are some things that aren't quite right, however: there are new curtains for the first time in years, Charles' uncle isn't there to greet him, and a stuffed animal trophy that has come to symbolize Uncle Robert's love for Charles is nowhere to be seen.
We learn what happened to Sarah the day before when she said goodbye to Charles: she walked boldly out of the woods, instead of trying to hide herself, and was seen by Mrs. Fairley.
Back in Lyme now, Charles discusses his trip with a furious Ernestina. Uncle Robert has decided to marry again, to a widow young enough to produce an heir - in which case Charles would no longer inherit Robert's property. Charles begs Ernestina to accept the news with "good...grace," but she is very upset (162). Charles learns from Ernestina and Aunt Tranter that Sarah has been dismissed from Mrs. Poulteney's service, and that she hasn't been seen since.
A note has arrived at Charles' hotel - Sarah begs to see him "one last time" (164). The next day, she sends another note, this one in French, with one last appeal. Charles is upset that she is risking his reputation in this way; he asks his manservant Sam to keep the note secret from Mrs. Tranter. He decides though, in a fit of wild emotion, that he has to "talk to someone" and "lay bare his soul," so he leaves the hotel without telling Sam where he is going (167).
The most astonishing thing about this chapter is the reversal of attitude that Charles and Sarah undergo. At first, Charles is playing the part of the magnanimous gentleman offering consolation and a cure to the woman in distress, and Sarah is grateful and "near tears" at his kindness (148). When Mary and Sam appear, however, Charles is "pierced with a new embarrassment" and loses his confident facade (149). In contrast, Sarah becomes self-possessed and self-assured; she is amused by the two lovers and completely comfortable with the element of sexuality that their appearance has introduced into the scene. Charles is in danger, he feels, of succumbing to his desire to reach out to Sarah - he has "one foot over the precipice" (150). He is "saved" by Mary's commotion, but this is only a temporary respite: the reader knows very well that he has already gone too far in his interactions with Sarah to turn back now (151). The sexual tension between them is still there; the physical sexual interaction is simply postponed.
Charles is resolute at the beginning of the chapter, and thinks he has escaped from Sarah. She is dangerous - compared to a "fire" and "dangerous water" (152-153). He throws himself with some enthusiasm into his task of visiting Uncle Robert - largely to get away from Sarah. Ernestina's tamer and more domestic nature is highlighted in this chapter, with her interest in the "catalogues" from which she will order furniture for her new household with Charles (156).
This homecoming scene is ironic - Charles fancies himself as the returning son-figure, come to take the "throne" of the country mansion from his uncle, but realizes belatedly that things aren't actually looking too good for him, since the all-important bustard that represents Uncle Robert's affection for him is missing (158).
Class is discussed to some extent is this chapter, and the following is perhaps the most interesting point raised: country landowners are really capitalists, no different than the big cities' factory-owners. They may treat their peasants with more kindness than the factory owners treat their workers, but that's because, as the narrator remarks: "the [land]owners liked well-tended peasants as much as well-tended fields and livestock" (158). The goal of factory capitalism is "Higher Productivity," and the goal of the landed gentry is "Pleasant Prospect," but the two are essentially morally equivalent (158). This discussion of class and capitalism serves to paint Charles in his natural habitat, as one of the privileged upper class who is being slowly replaced by the rising factory-owning bourgeoisie, but who are essentially no better than them.
Charles isn't usually aware of class distinctions, and it doesn't usually bother him that Ernestina is nouveau riche, while he himself belongs to the aristocracy. They haven't had to deal with many serious problems together, and this 'disinheritance' is the first major issue they have discussed; the discussion does not go well. Ernestina acts like a spoiled child, and Charles attributes her "unladylike" attitude to her being a "draper's daughter" who lacks the "imperturbability" of the aristocratic class (162). More and more, we see Charles finding fault with Ernestina, and we see that they are not a truly compatible couple.
Suicide is mentioned briefly in this chapter, with an amazing equanimity. Charles reflects that "if Sarah was still living," he would know where to find her - and this "if" implicitly suggests that she may well not be living anymore. It is almost as if he expects the wildest things from her, and would not be surprised if she took the huge step of ending her own life.
Charles is torn between two impulses in this chapter. The first is that he wants to stay away from Sarah, and deal with his own troubles and "acute and self-directed anxiety" (167). This is obviously a selfish instinct, partly motivated by his desire to keep his reputation intact. The other impulse, which leads him to leave the hotel and go in search of Sarah, is also somewhat selfish. Charles feels as though he is "an ammonite stranded in a drought" - basically, he feels that he is a prisoner of fate and time and determinism, without free will (167). He wants to act, to "strike out against the dark clouds" of shadowy destiny that surround him, and thereby prove that he is not helpless (167). Free will is something that Charles prizes dearly, and so it proves a stronger motivator than the other concerns - this is why he ends up leaving the hotel instead of staying in.