Charles' night ended with the prostitute named Sarah taking care of him until he was well enough to back to his own hotel. While Sarah went out to get him a cab, he calmed her screaming baby by giving it his silver watch to play with; before he gets in the taxi he leaves an extra five sovereigns on the table as a tip. When Charles returns home from his night of debauchery, Sam is waiting for him and guesses at how drunk his master got.
The next morning, Charles feels ill from his hangover, but also quite lucid. He looks in the mirror, and is much more content with his situation than he was the previous day. He reflects that soon he will be able to have "legitimate" intercourse with Ernestina once they're married, and that he doesn't have to think about going into business with Mr. Freeman for at least another two years, during which time his uncle may well die (254). Charles opens a friendly letter from Doctor Grogan reminding him to steer clear of Sarah in the future, and advising him to tell Ernestina the whole truth. The next letter is from Sarah, and contains nothing but her new Exeter address.
Charles announces to Sam that they're going back to Lyme Regis, and Sam announces that he plans to ask for Mary's hand in marriage. Sam tells Charles about his dream of becoming a haberdasher and opening a clothing store; Charles is shocked - he hasn't thought of the possibility that Sam might ever want to leave him. When asked how much money he has saved so far, Sam admits that he has only a fraction of what he needs, but that it is a full one-third of three years' wages - and he hints that Charles might want to help him reach his goal. Charles dismisses the idea, claiming that because he won't inherit Winsyatt, he hasn't got any money to spare. Eventually he relents, and says he will reconsider the matter after his marriage. Sam is now heavily invested in Charles' and Ernestina's marriage - if Charles reconnects with Sarah, the wedding might not happen and he will not get his money. He resolves to keep Charles and Sarah far away from each other.
On the train back to Lyme, Charles thinks about Sarah, and wonders how she is. Yet as the train pulls into Exeter, he travels on to Lyme without stopping by to see her.
Immediately after arriving back in Lyme Regis, Charles goes to visit Aunt Tranter and Ernestina. He and Ernestina exchange kisses and flirtatiously playful repartee, and agree to go on a walk together the following morning. Charles says that he has a confession to make about "that miserable female at Marlborough house," and begins to tell Ernestina what has happened (264).
The narrator claims that "so ends the story," and gives us a brief outline of the rest of Charles' and Ernestina's lives. The engaged couple got married, and Charles never saw Sarah again. He and Ernestina did not have a particularly happy marriage, but they had seven children. Charles took over the family business, and his own sons eventually inherited it from him. Sam and Mary "married, and bred, and died" - the narrator doesn't give any more details than that (265). Dr. Grogan and Aunt Tranter live long lives, and Mrs. Poulteney eventually goes to Hell.
The narrator mentions that although everything he has described in Chapter 44 "happened," it didn't happen in quite the way he told us (266). That vision of the future of the characters was just that - a vision - specifically, Charles' vision as he took the train to Exeter of what might happen in the rest of his life (with some narratorial additions and amendments). So instead of getting into a carriage with Sam as he did in Chapter 43, and going back to Lyme Regis, where he flirted with Ernestina and eventually married her in Chapter 44, Charles decides to stay the night in Exeter, much to Sam Farrow's dismay. Sam follows Charles to the Endicott Family Hotel, where Sarah is staying.
Charles has been deeply unsettled by his encounter with the prostitute, partly because he thinks he is doing a bad thing by soliciting her when he has a fiancée, and partly because her name is Sarah. The culmination of this profound disturbance of his character was the vomiting on the bed. What finally restores Charles to himself is not what we might expect: it isn't the departure of Sarah the prostitute or his own departure from her house. It is the time he spends playing with her child that helps him regain the "sense of irony" which is the foundation of his "faith in himself" (252). This is because the situation is so ridiculous - an evening that promised so much debauchery has ended with such an innocent and domestic scene - that it allows Charles to take an ironically amused view of it. Irony is Charles' way of dealing with confusing emotions, and so being able to reclaim this distance between himself and his situation is crucial in restoring his confidence.
We see lower-class Sam rising up against his master in this chapter, to some degree. He doesn't have the money or power to leave Charles' employment and strike out on his own, so he uses clever tactics such as hinting, guilt-tripping, and even a little bit of blackmail to induce Charles to help him achieve his dream. Charles wonders if Sam isn't becoming a "Uriah Heep" - a Dickens character famous for his duplicity - and the narrator admits that Sam is a little more deceitful than usual (259). The reason, though, is a noble one - Sam is thinking of a marriage with Mary, and so if he is being dishonest, at least it is "for two" rather than one (259).
Charles thinks he is finished with Sarah - in some way, the thwarted and unconsummated sexual encounter with Sarah the prostitute represents the "sad and sordid end" of his half-relationship with Sarah Woodruff (260). The paradox is, of course, that Sarah the prostitute is nothing like Sarah Woodruff, and in fact throws Sarah's best qualities - her sensitivity and her intelligence - into relief, making Charles remember her fondly and consider going to see her.
There is a clear example of free indirect style in this chapter, as Charles thinks about Sarah Woodruff. The narrator doesn't explicitly tell us that he is relating Charles' thoughts, but Charles' attempt to mask his continued fascination with Sarah comes through the prose very clearly: "All this was...earnest consideration of a moral problem and caused by augustly pure solicitude for the unfortunate woman's future welfare" (261). The stilted, formal tone belongs to Charles, not our narrator - Charles is trying to explain away his thoughts about Sarah by framing them as disinterested charity, and the narrator is allowing this self-delusion to bleed through the text without signaling that it is Charles' self-delusion, and that the truth is in fact very different from "augustly pure solicitude" that Charles claims to feel (261). The reader can clearly see through the pretense; by allowing Charles' thoughts to come to us directly, the narrator makes it even easier for us to dismiss them and discover the true intentions underneath the denial.
The shift in the middle of this chapter is shocking, just as the narratorial intrusion in Chapter 13 was shocking. The reader is not expecting the novel to be over - after all, there doesn't seem to have been a resolution of the tension between Charles and Sarah, whom we intuitively expect to end up together - and so we are taken off guard by the declaration that "so ends the story" (264). The story can't end yet! Of course, we know that there must be more - after all, we can tell that there are physically more pages to read. Fowles is playing with us again, which is clearly indicated by the ironic tone he adopts to outline the characters' lives for our benefit. Charles and Ernestina don't really end up happy, and Mary and Sam - whom we are invested in as a couple, since they are two sympathetic characters and we have watched their romance bloom - are barely mentioned at all. The majority of the space is expended on a detailed description of Mrs. Poulteney's experience in the afterlife, and her comeuppance for her cruelty. This is obviously comic - she is received at the pearly gates and then thrown down to Hell - and we understand that the novel can't end with a ridiculous speculation about a minor character. Fowles is using some elements of a conventional ending - a marriage, children, and justice for the 'bad' characters - but is showing us that such an ending is thoroughly unsatisfactory and empty. As modern readers, who are reading about three-dimensional characters, we simply expect more.
The narrator's first line in this chapter is this tongue-in-cheek statement of intention: "And now, having brought this fiction to a thoroughly traditional ending..." This clause is interesting for three reasons. Firstly, it reminds us yet again that what we're reading is fiction and not reality. Secondly, there is irony in the claim that the ending just given is "thoroughly traditional" - although it contains traditional elements, it is clearly a very self-aware parody of a usual ending, given the extended comic rejection of Mrs. Poulteney from heaven, and the too-brisk refusal to give Mary and Sam's life in any detail. Finally, the author seems to be amending the previous chapter - it seems that he intends to give us another, less traditional ending.
There is also heavy irony and paradox in this first paragraph, because the author admits - in the same sentence no less - that what he has written is "a fiction," and yet it all "happened" (266). This plays into a major theme of the novel: the artificial nature of fiction, and whether or not something can be real and true if it is a product of an author's imagination.