It is the first day of school in Corrigan, and all the children talk about the events of the summer, especially Laura’s disappearance. There are also two other children, the Beaumonts, who live in a neighboring town and have been kidnapped. Jasper hasn’t shown up for school, or even checked his name for the football team. Jeffrey has become a popular student due to his cricketing, and is now a regular member of the cricket team. Warwick Trent has returned to school, having been held back another year.
Silvey begins this chapter on a strangely depressing note—Laura’s disappearance, amazingly, is only one of many summer crimes involving young children. Wesley was right, clearly, when he said the world was changing. Nevertheless, some of the changes are positive—Jeffrey, at least, is more popular than he was before, suggesting that Australia might be becoming more tolerant to minorities.
At the moment, Charlie is walking to Jack Lionel’s property, surrounded by a group of schoolboys. Charlie has made a bet with Warwick—if he can sneak onto Jack’s property and steal more than four peaches, he’ll be granted “immunity” from Warwick’s bullying and beatings for an entire year. If he fails, Warwick will tie him to Miners’ Hall overnight and throw eggs at him.
This test of Charlie’s bravery requires no bravery whatsoever, of course. He knows Jack Lionel well, and can freely walk onto his property without harm. This seems like a convenient symbol that Charlie has matured and learned to conquer his fears—but perhaps it’s a little too convenient.
Jeffrey, Eliza, and Charlie walk close together, followed by schoolboys. Charlie longs to kiss Eliza, but he knows that he can’t in public. As Eliza turns to walk back to her house, Charlie asks if he’ll see Eliza tonight, and Eliza replies that she might see him earlier—she has a surprise for him. After Eliza walks away, Jeffrey asks Charlie how he plans to steal fruit from Mad Jack. He offers to accompany Charlie, but Charlie insists that this isn’t necessary. He promises Jeffrey the peach pits he’s going to collect.
Charlie’s feelings for Eliza continue to remain largely secret, known only to Jeffrey and a few others. Eliza’s parting words are a little sinister, but they barely register as we prepare for the humor and satisfaction of Charlie’s “daring” journey to steal peaches from Jack Lionel’s tree.
At Mad Jack’s house, Warwick orders Charlie to claim his peaches. Charlie climbs over Mad Jack’s fence easily, and walks forward, knowing that Warwick never expected him to make it this far.
In one sense, climbing the fence around Jack’s house is the most frightening part of the challenge for the average child—once you’re in, the rest is easier.
Charlie approaches Jack’s house and goes around the back, where Jack is sitting on his back porch. Jack greets Charlie warmly, and Charlie returns the greeting. Charlie asks if Jack has any peaches, and Jack replies that all his peaches have been stolen or pecked apart by birds. Careful to keep Jack on the back porch where the students can’t see him, Charlie asks Jack if he can take some of these ruined peaches—Jack cheerily obliges, saying that Charlie is free to take any of the dirty peaches lying on the ground. Charlie looks down and sees old peaches covered in insects. He’s afraid to touch them because of his dislike of insects, but Jack insists that he has nothing to be afraid of—the bees have consumed so many of the peaches that they’re “lickered up” and harmless. Charlie is about to pick up the peaches when he realizes that his return won’t be as heroic as he’d hoped—Warwick will ask him why he took so long, and why he’s found only dirty peaches. Charlie asks Jack for a favor—in return, he’ll come by to cook Jack dinner on Sunday.
Throughout the novel Charlie has learned to enjoy deception and creative lies. Here, he seems to be having a great time, carefully orchestrating Jack’s movements so as to preserve the illusion that he’s a hero. It’s ironic that Charlie does face one test of bravery, despite his illusions: he has to face his fear of insects. Once again, Charlie learns that he has nothing to fear from the bees, as knowledge and education teach him to overcome his anxiety. It’s touching that Charlie offers to see Jack again in the near future. This suggests that Charlie will give Jack some much-needed friendship ad company, even if Jasper is unlikely to see Jack again. (It’s worth noting that this corresponds to the ending of To Kill a Mockingbird, in which Scout befriends Boo Radley, the reclusive man who had previously terrified her.)
A moment later, the schoolboys see Charlie emerge from behind Mad Jack’s house, holding five peaches. Charlie notes with amusement that it still took courage for him to grab the peaches, since it meant touching insects. As Charlie returns from the back of the house, Mad Jack bursts out of the front of his house, carrying a shotgun and yelling. Charlie turns, snatches the shotgun out of Jack’s hands, throws it on the ground, and pushes Jack to the ground. Jack gives a theatrical wink as he keels over, and Charlie whispers that he’ll see Jack on Sunday. With this, Charlie walks away from the house in triumph.
This is a comic highpoint of the novel—Charlie brilliant orchestrates a scuffle, rigging the scene so that he “defeats” Jack. This is also Jack Lionel’s last scene. In a sense, Jack’s story is the happiest in the entire novel. Once a lonely old man, Jack can now look forward to friendship and companionship from Charlie, and recognition, at the very least, from his grandson Jasper.
Charlie returns to the crowd of students, and they immediately begin asking him questions about Mad Jack. Charlie notices with satisfaction that Warwick Trent is hanging back—clearly, Charlie has beaten him. Charlie plans to give Jeffrey three peach pits, Eliza one, and then keep one for himself. As the students slap Charlie on the back in congratulations, someone points to the town—there is a plume of smoke coming from the city center, meaning that a house is probably on fire. Immediately, the students run toward the fire. Charlie drops his peaches and runs, too.
Charlie’s triumph seems complete, as he has won respect from the same people who once tormented and bullied him, even Warwick Trent. Indeed, it would be possible for the novel to end in this section—on a note of optimism. Yet Silvey doesn’t end things here, and doesn’t give Charlie the chance to savor his victory. It’s still worth keeping in mind that Charlie doesn’t hesitate to run toward the danger, showing that he’s genuinely braver than he was only a month ago.
Charlie runs toward the source of the fire. He realizes that the fire is coming from Eliza’s house. Neighbors and firefighters run around the house, yelling and screaming. With enormous relief, Charlie sees Eliza sitting outside the house, completely unharmed. Charlie also sees Eliza’s mother, also unharmed, and her father, in an oxygen mask and bandages, but still alive.
It’s not entirely clear what to make of the scene right away, and in this sense, it brings the entire novel full-circle. Silvey began with a sudden, mysterious, and horrifying crime, and here he ends his novel with a similar tableau. This effectively gives Charlie a test—how will he handle this new crime without Jasper’s help?
Charlie realizes that Eliza is looking at her house with completely calmness. He thinks about the murderer he’s read about, who said, “I just wanted to hurt someone.” He thinks about Jenny Likens, who had the chance to save her sister but failed, and then must have spent the rest of her life struggling with her guilt.
It now becomes clear that Eliza is responsible for the act of arson. Frustrated that she couldn’t bring her father to justice for abusing and raping her sister, Eliza burned down the house with Pete in it. Charlie recognizes that Eliza is reacting to a deep sense of guilt, the same sense of guilt that Jenny Likens showed. This brings the novel back to the same questions Charlie had previously raised: when are criminals guilty for their actions, and when should they be forgiven? To what extent is revenge an act of evil?
Charlie hears neighbors talking about how the fire might have started—it could have been a cigarette or the stove. After only a few moments, Charlie hears Jasper Jones’s name. Charlie then reveals that he’s known that Jasper Jones is gone from Corrigan. He realizes this a few weeks ago, when he was playing cricket with Jeffrey. At that moment, Charlie stared up at the sky and felt, as if by ESP, that Jasper was leaving. Charlie thinks that the police will be looking for Jasper soon enough, but they won’t find him—he is too clever.
This section is simultaneously the darkest and the most inspiring part of the book. It’s dark because it suggests that Eliza burned down her house to drive Jasper Jones out of town for good, knowing full well that he would be blamed. Eliza has previously shown a desire to punish Jasper for his role in Laura’s death, and here she takes an opportunity to punish both Jasper and both of her parents. It’s interesting that the “level” of punishment each of these three people endures seems to correspond exactly to their guilt in Laura’s death. Pete is the most badly hurt, since he is the most directly responsible for Laura’s depression and suicide. Eliza’s mother is the next most punished, since she’s losing her house—if she had listened to Laura, Laura would still be alive. Finally, Jasper is the least punished—he was thinking of leaving Corrigan anyway, and, as Charlie recognizes, the authorities will never arrest him.
Charlie walks up to Eliza, who continues to look calmly at the flames. Thinking that he finally has “the right words,” he bends to her and whispers them in her ear.
Silvey ends on a note of ambiguity. We don’t know if we should praise Eliza for her revenge, or view her as a criminal. We also don’t know if we can hold Eliza personally accountable for her actions, or if we should blame her behavior on the greater evils committed by her mother and father. If nothing else, we can conclude that the truth does “win out” in the end, but not in the neat, just ways Jasper and Charlie had predicted. By keeping the secret of Laura’s death “bottled up,” Eliza felt compelled to take matters into her own hands. Ultimately, it’s unclear how we’re meant to feel about Eliza and Charlie. For this reason, Silvey doesn’t tell us what Charlie whispers to Eliza. We must decide for ourselves how to judge Eliza’s actions.