On their trip to Macon, where Paul will begin his formal schooling and his apprenticeship to Josiah Pinter as a furniture maker, Paul's father warns him not to get involved with any white girls, especially Josiah's daughters. Paul looks at his father resentfully, thinking that his father had had no qualms about getting involved with a black woman. Although Josiah repeats the warning ominously and does not let Paul eat at his table or sleep in his house, he is a capable teacher, and Paul excels at his studies with Josiah. Unfortunately, however, Josiah's middle daughter, Jessie, trails after Paul, trying to engage him in conversation.
At home that Christmas, Robert and Paul are eager to catch up. Robert reiterates the warning against getting involved with Jessie, regaling him with stories of black men who were lynched just for looking at a white woman. He also admits, uncomfortably, that the other children at his school, especially the Waverly boys, make fun of him for being kind to blacks. Back in Macon, Paul explains to Jessie what might happen to him if their friendship continues, and after this, she leaves him alone. Paul must stay in Macon to work during the summer and consequently does not see Robert until the following Christmas, when—to Paul's shock—Robert defends the Waverly brothers.
The next Christmas, Paul is surprised to find that Robert and his family have invited the Waverlys to spend Christmas with them. Eager to see his brother, Paul sets out to find him. He meets Mitchell in the woods, whose face is swollen from, Paul surmises, a beating from Willie Thomas. Mitchell says he is planning to leave the plantation, and the two boys part ways. Before long, Paul finds the two older Waverly brothers and Robert leading the panting, lathered, and bleeding Appaloosa down a road toward the barn. Paul is incensed at their clear abuse of the horse, and before he even greets the boys, he tries to calm the horse's labored breathing. Paul lashes out at their irresponsible behavior, calling them fools, and a fight breaks out. Paul fights the three boys off and escapes with the horse into the woods.
After tending to the horse in the woods, Paul returns to the barn, only to find Mr. Waverly, his sons, Robert, and his father, with a leather strap in his hand. Paul's father first looks over the horse, quickly telling Willie to tend to him, and then turns gravely to Paul, telling him he must never hit a white man again. Paul protests that Robert is not a man, but when his father asserts that he is a man, Paul argues that he, too, is a man. Paul's father points out that he is not, however, a white man, and Paul retorts that this fact is the fault of his mother and father. Undeterred, Paul's father makes Paul strip and whips him soundly in front of the Waverlys and Robert.
Paul runs out into the woods. Later that night his father finds him and tries to explain that if Paul hits a white man in the world outside of their plantation, he will be killed immediately and cruelly. Paul listens but refuses to fully accept his father's explanations. Finally, his father gives him one of his rings and leaves the lantern with him. Paul remains in the woods until dawn. In the morning, he returns home and finds Cassie waiting for him on the stoop. His sister supports their father's decision to whip him, saying simply that it is time for Paul to learn the harshness of the world in which they live. Normally, Paul and Cassie spend part of Christmas at their father's house, but this year they stay at their mother's house. Paul feels that this is his only real family. The next day, George and Hammond come over to tell Paul that they are sorry about what has happened and to inform him that their father had whipped Robert once the Waverlys left—as much for betraying Paul as for treating the horse badly. Paul finds that this news does not move him one way or the other. Later, Robert himself comes over to apologize. Paul merely looks at him as he turns his back and walks away.
Much racial hatred in the postbellum south was fuelled by the highly charged concept of white womanhood: southern men were viciously driven by their fantastical fear that white women needed protection against the sexual predations of black men. Robert's story, Paul's father's warning about Josiah Pinter's daughters, and Paul's circumspect behavior toward Jessie all illustrate that white men were angered almost maniacally at the possibility of a black man desiring a white woman. Perhaps they even more deeply feared that a white woman would desire a black man. Many white men would not hesitate to inflict a swift and brutal punishment upon a black man accused—even in the most questionable of manners—of having designs on a white woman. This deep- seated fear of relationships between black men and white women was also at the heart of the reverently honored social and economic practices that kept blacks from inhabiting the same social spheres as whites.