Charles looks over the partition in the barn, and sees Sarah asleep. He calls her name softly, gets no response, but when he leaves the barn Sarah calls him back, and he goes to her. They talk briefly about Sarah's disappearance, and Sarah grabs Charles' hand to kiss it passionately. Sarah confesses that she disobeyed Mrs. Poulteney intentionally, knowing that she would be dismissed, and she begs for his forgiveness. Charles thinks she is extremely beautiful. He pulls her toward him in a tight embrace, kisses her, and then pushes her away violently and rushes away.
It is the previous night, and Ernestina is watching Charles' window across the street, thinking that he is staying up late because he is upset with her reaction to his disinheritance. She is contrite, and writes an emotional entry in her diary. The following morning, Sam has to break the news to Mary that Charles wants to leave Lyme Regis immediately, and Mary is distraught.
As Charles runs away from Sarah, he runs into Sam and Mary, who are on their way to the barn. Charles makes Sam swear not to tell anyone that he has been visiting Sarah. Charles returns to Sarah as the couple leaves, and tells her again to leave Lyme Regis and seek employment in Lyme Regis. He leaves some money for her in the barn, and as they say goodbye Charles tells Sarah he will never forget her. Charles walks away.
When Charles returns to town, he visits Ernestina, who is irritated with him for gone on a walk without coming to talk to her first, and for telling everyone else before her about his intention to leave for London. Charles says he must go discuss his disinheritance with her father; Ernestina argues that it makes no difference to their engagement or their future prospects. Ernestina wants to be kissed goodbye when Charles gets up to leave, and although Charles initially doesn't want to oblige her, he gives in and kisses her. The kiss arouses him, which makes him angry with himself - he is upset that he is feeling "carnal desire" for Ernestina after having "touched another woman's lips that morning" (210). On his way out, Charles gives Mary a gold coin in return for her promise not to tell anyone about having seen him with Sarah that morning.
The narrator discusses the sexual morays of the Victorian era, and reveals that Sam and Mary were going to the barn to have sex, and that it isn't the first time they have done so.
This is the second time in the novel that Charles has come across Sarah asleep. When she is asleep, she is less sad and mysterious than when she is awake, and it is in these moments that Charles can catch her off her guard. Sarah looks "like a small girl" - innocent and peaceful - and Charles thinks that this is both "disgraceful" and "wicked," considering that he has been steeling himself for the terrible sight of her corpse (196). Apart from outrage, Sarah's sleeping figure inspires a mixture of difficult emotions in Charles that make him "inexplicable to himself" (197). (The Victorians, the narrator reminds us, are a people who are "troubled" by paradoxes and do not like contradictions or opposites.) He wants to protect her in a paternal capacity, but in the "dark privacy of the barn" he is reminded of a "bedroom" and all its sexual connotations (196). The interaction between the two characters is at once innocent, bumbling, and awkward - the way they address each other by their last names and scuttle in and out of the barn suggests laughable romantic inexperience - but underpinned by a deep sexual tension.
Ernestina cannot help but be a symbol for the bourgeois class to which she belongs, and a product of her upbringing. This chapter uses her social caste to help explain her reaction to the news that Charles will not inherit Winsyatt. She had not wanted to live in such a grand house, the narrator explains, because she has "a very sound bourgeois sense of proportion" and the house is excessively large (200). And yet she had "wooed herself" into accepting the idea of being lady of such a grand mansion, because her bourgeois nature makes her a social climber (200). The narrator notes that the bourgeoisie's "saving virtue" is that it is the only class that "despises itself" - and indeed, Ernestina reproaches herself for having "behaved like a draper's daughter" (201). The effect of such a lengthy discussion of class in this context is to reinforce the idea that we are products of our environments, and that we cannot be seen as totally responsible for all our actions. Thus, the narrator describes Ernestina as a "victim of circumstances," and this phrase also applies to the other characters in the novel as well who are shaped by their sex and their class (201).
Charles and Sarah say goodbye again - this pattern of sudden meetings, interruptions, and farewells has been repeated so often in the novel thus far that it is almost like a wave rolling onto the shore again and again. Charles and Sarah keep saying goodbye, but are unable to fully part from each other, and keep seeing each other again. This ties into the idea that we are victims of destiny, and that destiny is pulling them together, whatever Charles might do to try to combat it. Charles may think he has free will, and that by giving Sarah money and sending her away he will be rid of her, but he has tried to extricate himself from the relationship many times already, and has always failed. The reader is certain that this is not a final goodbye, despite what the characters might think.
The tension in the interaction between Charles and Ernestina stems from Charles' stiff profession of duty - it is his duty to arrange financial matters with Ernestina's father, and it is his duty to leave Lyme immediately - and his confused sexual feelings for both Ernestina and Sarah. He is aloof and brisk during his conversation with Ernestina, who tries to dissuade him from leaving with "sarcastic firmness" and a plea for a kiss, although at first he cannot "bring himself to kiss her on the mouth" because he realizes that he doesn't love her, and because he is still remembering his meeting with Sarah earlier that morning (209). The kiss shakes Charles' single-minded commitment to duty. It makes him think half-formed erotic thoughts about Ernestina's "tender little white body," and he is embarrassed to feel a "stir in his loins" (210). Charles' sexual feelings for Ernestina are very much repressed, as the conventions of the Victorian era require; their courtship is almost entirely lacking a physical component - but we learn here that Charles is attracted to her, even though this attraction is almost subconscious.
The beginning of this chapter is entirely social commentary by the narrator, who barely references his characters in his long discourse on the causes and effects of Victorian prudery. Paradoxes abound in Fowles' description of the sexual morays of the time: he points out that women were worshipped and placed on a pedestal, but that you could buy an hour of sex with a poor teenager for a "few shillings"; that women walked around completely covered up, and yet art at the time was full of naked female bodies; and so on. These paradoxes set up a puzzle: how can it be that the Victorians were at once so obsessed with and repulsed by sex?
To answer this problem, Fowles offers a common psychoanalytical interpretation of the Victorian attitude toward sex: that the Victorians poured their "libido" into art and science and religion (212). The narrator is not entirely convinced by this theory, because it implies that the Victorians did not have high sex drives, and he maintains that they did. There is an interesting ambivalence in the way the narrator compares Victorian sexuality to the sexual situation in the twentieth century - he implies, through an analogy comparing sex to apples, that one might enjoy apples (sex) more if one was less exposed to them, as the Victorians were less exposed to sexual imagery and experience than modern people are.