The chapter begins shortly after the events of Chapter 23. The soldiers are still in Delhi, and Cacciato is nowhere in sight. Paul Berlin spends nearly all of his time with Sarkin. They go shopping for clothing and jewelry, and take long walks through the city streets. Sarkin is full of questions about Berlin’s life in the U.S., and often talks about her own life in the city of Cholon, where her family is from. They still talk about Paris, and Sarkin continues to fantasize about walking though Paris with Berlin. Without telling his friends, or even Sarkin, Berlin knows that he is ready to “move on” to a new city.
At this point in the novel, the soldiers aren’t even pretending that their priority is finding Cacciato. Cacciato is only a convenient excuse for their travels through Europe and Asia. Thus, Berlin isn’t ready to move on to another city because he thinks Cacciato has gone—he wants to move on because he’s curious about more traveling. Sarkin’s realism seems to have affected him, and he’s eager to make it to Paris as soon as he can.
One day, Corson shows Berlin a copy of the local newspaper. Amazingly, there is a photograph of Cacciato on the front page. In the photograph, Cacciato is sitting in a train car near Tapier Station. Corson can make out that the train is heading for Kabul. Corson tells Berlin that they’ll have to head to Afghanistan. Within a few hours, the troops have assembled, and they’re ready to move on to Afghanistan.
As usual, Cacciato’s appearance is a little too convenient (reminding us that this story may be the product of Berlin’s imagination, not “reality”), but this shouldn’t suggest that Cacciato is what’s really motivating the soldiers to travel—after all, Cacciato’s appearance comes after Berlin has decided to move on.
Before he leaves, Lieutenant Corson has a glass of cognac with Jolly Chand. Corson seems to be overcome with emotion. Doc Peret gently taps Corson’s shoulder and tells him that it’s time for the troops to head for the train. Corson mutters that he’s not going—he’s “officially retired” from military life. Doc tries to convince Corson to rejoin his troops, but nothing he says seems to work. Corson mutters, “send me a card from Paree” (Paris).
Corson has always been a reluctant leader, and almost cowardly at times. Here, he shows his true colors by refusing to continue. This isn’t exactly surprising, and indeed, Corson seems like the most honest of the soldiers. He has no illusions about the mission to capture Cacciato—he just wants to find happiness.
Doc leaves Corson and tells the troops that Corson isn’t coming. Some of the soldiers want to wait in Delhi with their lieutenant, and others want to proceed to Kabul. Oscar—the ranking officer in Corson’s absence—grins and tells Doc that Corson is one of the “walkin’ wounded.” Doc seems to understand what Oscar is suggesting. They sneak back to the Hotel Phoenix, where they find Corson, still lying in his chair, alone (Jolly has gone) and asleep. The soldiers carry Corson to a taxi and tell the driver to hurry.
Oscar seems to know Corson better than Corson knows himself. Corson believes that he’s in love with Jolly, but Johnson (and, for that matter, the other soldiers) understands that Corson is only feeling desperate for somebody. Knowing this, the soldiers disobey their commander’s orders and take him onto the train. This is technically an act of insubordination, but also an expression of the soldiers’ loyalty.