Listen, pal, if I can’t play sports, you’re going to play them for me . . .See Important Quotations Explained
Gene sits at the first chapel service of the school year and observes that the school atmosphere seems back to normal, with all its usual austerity and discipline. He lives in the same room that he shared with Finny over the summer. The room across the hall, which belonged to Leper, now houses Brinker Hadley, a prominent personage on campus. After lunch, Gene starts to go across the hall but suddenly decides that he doesn’t want to see Brinker. He realizes that he is late for an afternoon appointment at the Crew House. On his way, he stops on the footbridge at the junction of the upper Devon River and the lower Naguamsett River. He envisions Finny balancing himself on the prow of a canoe on the river, the way Finny used to do.
Gene has taken the thankless position of assistant senior crew manager and has to work for Cliff Quackenbush, an unhappy, bullying type. After practice is over, Quackenbush pesters Gene as to why he has taken the job: normally boys only tolerate the position of assistant in hopes of becoming manager the following year, but Gene is already a senior. Quackenbush begins to insult him, implying that Gene must be working as a manager because he cannot row; indeed, as Gene knows, disabled students usually fill such positions. Gene hits Quackenbush hard and they start to fight and fall into the river. Gene pulls himself out and Quackenbush tells him not to come back. As Gene walks home, he meets Mr. Ludsbury, the master in charge of his dormitory, who berates him for taking advantage of the summer substitute and engaging in illegal activities: in addition to his escape to the beach with Finny, Gene had participated in late-night games of poker and transgressed the rules in other ways. Gene only regrets not having taken fuller advantage of the summer laxity.
Mr. Ludsbury then mentions that Gene has received a long distance phone call. Gene enters the master’s study and, calling the number written on the notepad there, soon hears Finny’s voice. Finny asks about their room and is relieved when Gene replies that he has no roommate. Finny says that he just wanted to be sure that Gene is no longer “crazy” like he was when he visited Finny and claimed that he jounced the limb. Finny then asks about sports and throws a fit when Gene tells him that he is trying to be assistant crew manager. Finny tells Gene that he has to play sports, for his sake, and Gene feels oddly joyful to think that he must be destined to become a part of Finny.
Brinker comes across the hall to see Gene and congratulates him on getting such a large room all to himself. He jokingly accuses Gene of having “done away with” Finny to get the room. Gene tries weakly to play along with the joke and then suggests that they go smoke cigarettes in the basement “Butt Room.” Upon their arrival, however, Brinker pretends that the Butt Room is a dungeon and announces to the others there that he has brought a prisoner accused of killing his roommate. Gene tries to shake off the comment’s hint of truth by making an overblown, obviously joking confession; he chokes, however, when he begins to describe jolting Finny out of the tree. Paralyzed, he challenges a younger boy to “reconstruct the crime,” but the boy says simply that Gene must have pushed Finny off the branch. Gene ridicules the boy’s conclusion, directing attention away from himself but eliciting the boy’s hatred. He then declares that he must go study his French, leaving without having smoked.
To relieve wartime labor shortages, the boys shovel snow off the railroad and receive payment in return. On his way to the train station to go shovel, Gene finds Leper in the middle of a meadow, cross-country skiing. Leper says that he is looking for a beaver dam on the Devon River and invites Gene to come see it sometime if he finds it. Gene works on the same shoveling team as Brinker and Chet Douglass but finds the work dull and arduous. The boys shovel out the main line and cheer as a troop train, packed with young men in uniform, continues by them on its way. On the train home, the boys talk only of the war and their eagerness to be involved. Quackenbush says that he will finish school before going off to be a soldier, as he wants to take full advantage of Devon’s physical hardening program. The other boys accuse him of being an enemy spy.
When they arrive back at Devon, the boys find Leper coming back from his expedition to the beaver dam. Brinker makes fun of him and, as they walk away, tells Gene that he is tired of school and wants to enlist tomorrow. Gene feels a thrill at the thought of leaving his old life to join the military. That night, after spending some time contemplating the stars, he decides to enlist as well. When he returns to his room, however, he finds Finny there.