Henry takes the train to Stresa. As a man of military age who could be fighting in the war, he attracts scornful stares because he is dressed in civilian clothes. The stares don't bother him because he has made "a separate peace" with the war.
In Stresa, Henry checks into a hotel, where he knows the barman, Emilio. In response to Henry's questions, Emilio directs Henry to the hotel where "two English nurses" are staying. When Henry arrives, Catherine is thrilled to see him, but Helen Ferguson angrily accuses Henry of ruining Catherine's life. Then she bursts into tears and demands that Henry marry Catherine and make a proper woman of her.
Helen recognizes that Catherine and Henry are preparing to live outside the normal boundaries of society. Though this prospect excites Catherine, it offends Helen, who blames Henry for seducing her friend.
After Henry and Catherine make love in Henry's hotel room, Henry lies awake and thinks about how he never feels lonely when he is with her. And yet he also thinks about how the world breaks everyone eventually, and that those who it doesn't break—the good, the gentle, and the brave—it kills.
In the morning, Henry doesn't read the newspaper while they eat breakfast. He promises to tell Catherine about his experiences once he himself understands them, and she jokes that he shouldn't feel bad about deserting since it was only the Italian army that he left. Henry brings up the idea of escaping to Switzerland, and Catherine agrees.
Henry has given up on the world and no longer even reads the newspaper. To this point, Henry and Catherine's love has been a metaphorical escape, but it becomes a real escape from the war and the world when they decide to flee to Switzerland, a neutral country.