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Because Gene is covered with the dirt and filth of the Naguamsett River, he takes a bath to cleanse himself. Brinker Hadley comes into the room to congratulate Gene for having the room to himself. He jokes that Gene has chosen Finny as his roommate since he knows that Finny will never be back. He also adds that perhaps Gene had deliberately "fixed" Finny so that he will not have to have a roommate. Since this remark makes Gene very uncomfortable, he quickly changes the subject. He suggests that they go down to the "Butt Room," which is the basement of the dormitory where smoking is allowed. The room is intentionally dreary in appearance, for the school authorities want to discourage smoking. Gene and Brinker find a few other boys in the Butt Room, where Brinker once again begins to accuse Gene. When the other boys join in, Gene is miserable. To stop the accusations, he invents a fantastic story of theft, blackmail, and love; however, when he comes to the part about Finny's accident, he stammers and is unable to continue. He tells the boys to draw their own conclusions from the various theories that they have. He then leaves by making the excuse that he wants to study French.
Since most of the adult men around Devon are off fighting in the war, the students are expected to help in a variety of tasks; it is called the Emergency Usefulness policy. They help to gather the local apple crop. Then when there is an unexpected early snowfall, most of the students volunteer to clear the rail lines, for they are to be paid and the troop trains need to get through. Leper, however, does not volunteer because he wants to go out and sketch birds and search for the beaver dam. Some of the students criticize Leper, thinking he is stupid to look for a beaver dam when there is a war going on. Brinker even announces that he is going to enlist in the army in order to join in the war effort. Gene thinks he will enlist as well.
When Gene returns to his room after shoveling snow, he is shocked to find Finny inside. He has been trying hard to forget about his old roommate, and now he is sitting in front of him as an uncomfortable reminder about the past.
This chapter begins with Gene returning to his room after falling into the Naguamsett River in a reverse baptism; instead of being cleansed in the river, he is dirtied by it. Symbolically, it indicates Gene's muddled mental state, his fall from grace with himself. He has realized that Finny was totally innocent and undeserving; the only evil resides in Gene himself.
Upon emerging from the bath, Brinker comes into the room and begins teasing Gene about not having a roommate. He even suggests that perhaps he has hurt Finny so he will not have to share his room. The teasing serves to heighten Gene's guilt. To change the subject, he suggests that the two of them go down to the butt room, which is a dreary, depressing place in the basement (a fit place for Gene's mood). Not surprisingly, things just grow worse for Gene in the butt room, for Brinker and the other boys hold a mock trial to judge Gene's guilt. Although Gene tries to go along with their joke, he stumbles about Finny's fall from the tree, because of his guilty mind.
The background of the war becomes more apparent in this chapter. The students are expected to help out in various tasks because most of the men around Devon are off fighting in the war. When there is a heavy snowfall, they volunteer to clean the snow from the tracks so that the troop trains can get through. When Leper does not volunteer, because he wants to go out and sketch birds and find a beaver dam, most of the students taunt him, saying he should realize that there is a war going on. After the troop train passes and Gene sees the heroic military men, he decides that he will enlist in the military and fight for his country.
When Gene returns to his room, he is surprised to find Finny waiting for him. It is an ironic situation, for Gene has been struggling since the start of school to forget his past; now that past is sitting in his room.