Back at his room, Gene is visited by Brinker. Brinker admires Gene's room, and jokes that Gene purposely injured Finny to get it all to himself. Gene defends himself, then changes the subject and suggests they go smoke.
Brinker's macho joking hits Gene where it hurts. He's the first to link Gene to Finny's fall, foreshadowing future events.
In the Butt Room, where they go to smoke, Brinker continues to joke in front of the other smoking students. Gene now plays along, confessing to the crime, but stops in the middle of describing how he knocked Finny from the branch. When another boy suggests Gene just pushed Finny off, Gene ridicules him to take the focus off himself. He then goes back to study without having smoked.
Gene's treatment of the boy in the Butt room is a classic tactic of people's private wars against invented enemies: Gene makes the boy his enemy in order to defeat him, and make himself strong. Of course, the result is that Gene has an enemy he didn't have before.
Fall turns into winter and the first snow blankets Devon. Gene observes that the war has also begun to take over the school: he and other students have to do jobs like apple picking and snow shoveling. The normal workers are all too busy with the war effort.
The change of seasons brings a change of consciousness to Devon: the war becomes more real for Gene and his friends. Now it directly affects them.
On the way to help shovel the snow-covered railroad tracks along which troop transport trains ride, Gene meets Leper. Leper is on skis and is "touring" the area looking for a beaver dam. Gene, Brinker, Chet Douglass, and Quackenbush then spend a miserable day shoveling. They cheer when at the end of the day a train full of soldiers rolls along the tracks they've cleared. The soldiers make them feel like boys.
While Leper is a dreamer, ignorant of war, the other boys are excited by it. But, because they're still just kids, they don't know that, at best, being a soldier will be more similar to the misery of shoveling snow than to their dreams of valor and glory.
They meet Leper on the way home. He reports excitedly that he found the beaver dam. Brinker mocks Leper, and disdainfully calls him an "abominable snowman" and a "nat-u-ral-ist."
Brinker and Leper have adopted different stances to the war. Brinker has fashioned himself as a war-ready grown-up. Leper ignores the war, almost hides from it.
Brinker then tells Gene he wants to enlist in the armed forces tomorrow. Gene considers enlisting himself. Once he realizes that the peace of the summer will never return to Devon and that in the army he'll "owe no one anything," he decides to do it. When he gets back to his room, Finny is there.
Gene views enlistment as a clean slate, a new identity. The possibility of "owing] no one anything" is enticing particularly because of his concerns about owing so much to Finny.