Chapter Twenty Two begins with Charles walking home and considering that ‘agelessly popular male theme’: that he has been playing with fire. He reminds himself that he has free will and leans on it as much as his walking stick. By the time he reaches the White Lion, ‘he had free-willed himself most convincingly into a state of self-congratulation’. He only dimly perceives Sarah’s passion and fails to see her imagination. For this ‘dismissive double equation’, he ‘stands truly for his age’. He is removed from any further embarrassment (with Ernestina this time) as a telegram awaits him. His uncle Robert at Winsyatt is urgently requesting his presence. He tells Ernestina of the summons and says he believes his uncle wants to tell him he can now live there.
On his way into Winsyatt, in Chapter Twenty Three, Charles talks to Mrs. Hawkins, a family servant, who he remembers as a substitute mother. As he approaches the house, Charles feels as though he is being called to ‘his throne’ and that duty is his real wife. He enters and is surprised there is no one there to greet him. He notices the new curtains and carpets and thinks his uncle is preparing to hand over the torch. There are other changes too, ‘but still he did not guess’.
The narrative moves to Sarah and how he could not have guessed what happened to her when she left him. She passed in full view of two women (on Ware Commons): the dairyman’s wife and Mrs. Fairley.
In Chapter Twenty Four, Charles and Ernestina are talking and she is angry on his behalf believing his uncle has lost his senses. It is half past nine on the same day that Charles set out for Winsyatt. It turns out that his uncle has decided to marry a widow, Mrs. Bella Tomkins, and if she has a son and heir, Charles will be disinherited. When he first told Ernestina the news, she showed her anger (which reminded him she is a draper’s daughter) and showed the lack of ‘traditional imperturbability’ of the aristocrats.
He then asks for news of Lyme and is told that Mrs. Poulteney has fired Miss Woodruff. There is now no trace of her and she did not get the coach she was expected to take. Charles asks if there is ‘no danger of ...’ (hinting delicately if she is thought to have killed herself). Aunt Tranter informs him men have been sent to search for her, but she has not been found and she is not with the Talbots.
Charles is worried that Sarah may have been seen with him, although he does not say this. It becomes imperative that he discovers her reasons for dismissal and thinks he is the only person in Lyme who knows where she may be. He strides off to the White Lion a few minutes later.
Analysis – Chapters Twenty Two, Twenty Three and Twenty Four
In these three chapters, Charles is regarded ironically by the narrator as he demonstrates his lack of perceptiveness. This comes in the reference to his view of Sarah and how he fails to appreciate her fully and also in his mistaken (egocentric) belief that his uncle has summoned him to ‘his throne’.
Before discovering his uncle’s news, Charles has been hoping that his uncle is ready to relinquish his role and home to him as the next in line. He also welcomes the idea as a duty, as though duty is safer and more certain than the entanglement with Sarah and the engagement to Ernestina. Duty, by comparison, is a refuge and is easier to negotiate and understand than human relationships.