One evening, the four soldiers plus Jeremiah are playing cards. Bonaparte realizes that Jeremiah doesn’t like the two Englishmen, which was hard to determine at first because he’s shy.
Here, Bonaparte had assumed a level of friendship and goodwill on Jeremiah’s part that never really existed. Jeremiah’s general awkwardness was camouflaging a real dislike of the Englishmen. This speaks to Bonaparte’s naivete about the war, that he thinks the Englishmen being on the opposing side is just a technical distinction and doesn’t preclude friendship.
A big argument breaks out about capitalism, religion, and patriotism. ‘Awkins argues that the capitalist class bribes the priesthood to distract the common man, while Noble responds that people believed in “the next world” long before capitalists existed.
‘Awkins begins to draw the motivations for war into his general argument against religion. He argues that the priesthood is a tool the capitalist class uses to hide their crimes and motivate common men and women to work, fight, and die. ‘Awkins’s implication is that ideas of duty and patriotism serve a similar function.
‘Awkins gets wound up even further, and he continues to mock Biblical beliefs using offensive and profane language that irritates Noble. Belcher just humors him by agreeing periodically while warming himself by the fireplace.
‘Awkins is described as “preaching a sermon” to emphasize that his radical skepticism about religion is an act of faith just as surely as a religious belief is. Meanwhile, Belcher, whose chief concern is domestic harmony, just humors ‘Awkins by saying “That’s right, chum” in a way that shuts off further debate.
To avoid the argument, Bonaparte walks down to town with Jeremiah. On the way, Jeremiah suddenly stops to scold Bonaparte for failing to guard the prisoners. This prompts Bonaparte to ask him why they even bother keeping Belcher and ‘Awkins around. Bonaparte claims that he’d rather be “out with a column” than doing this guard work.
Bonaparte is surprised and defensive when Jeremiah applies the word “prisoners” to Belcher and ‘Awkins, illustrating the extent to which he’s forgotten that the Englishmen are their enemies. Bonaparte asks to go “out with a column,” or fight at the front, but it’s a hollow gesture born out of resentment of Jeremiah’s authority. Furthermore, it shows Bonaparte’s limited view of war. For him, fighting at the front counts as war, while guarding prisoners in a civilian house doesn’t.
Then, Jeremiah explains that the British prisoners are hostages and that the Irish army plans to shoot them unless the British release their Irish prisoners. Dismayed, Bonaparte complains to Jeremiah that they should have been told sooner about the purpose of keeping the British prisoners.
Again, Bonaparte resists being drawn into details of the larger war. He can’t believe that anything done many miles away would have any bearing on the people he’s come to think of as friends. Finally, he feels used because he’s been complicit in keeping hostages without knowing it.
Bonaparte is miserable as he returns to the house. When he arrives, the religious argument between ‘Awkins and Noble is still raging. ‘Awkins challenges Noble on the gaps in his belief in the afterlife, including what and where heaven is, whether angels wear wings, and where the wings are made. Noble throws up his hands and gives up.
The argument devolves into mockery as ‘Awkins puts to Noble unanswerable questions challenging his faith. These questions betray a deeply literal mindset, requiring a burden of proof for religion that he doesn’t require for his own beliefs in capitalist conspiracies.
After the British prisoners are locked up for the night, Bonaparte tells Noble about the true purpose for keeping them under guard. They resolve not to tell ‘Awkins and Belcher, thinking it’d be kinder not to.
Bonaparte does his part to prop up the fiction of the arrangement they’ve made at the old woman’s house. He doesn’t confront the real possibility that they may have to kill the Englishmen, telling Belcher it’s “more than likely” the British won’t kill their Irish prisoners. By doing this, he hopes to delay the intrusion of the war as long as he can.
That night, Bonaparte has a lot of trouble sleeping, obsessing over how to prevent his fellow soldiers from executing the British prisoners. He notes that many of his fellow soldiers in the brigade are violent men, and that he might have to be prepared to fight them.
Bonaparte has a pivotal reckoning with his ideas about national identity and duty here. He contemplates an act of treason by forcefully preventing his fellow soldiers from executing the Englishmen. Furthermore, he describes some of the men in his own army as violent and bloodthirsty, comparing them unfavorably to Belcher and ‘Awkins. He thinks that “disunion between brothers is a terrible crime,” referring to his fellow soldiers but that “I knew better after.” He calls into question the criteria he used to designate someone a “brother.”
The next morning, both Bonaparte and Noble have trouble interacting with the Englishmen. Belcher is at his customary place by the fireplace, but ‘Awkins is agitated. Noble can’t even respond to ‘Awkins when he begins prodding Noble about religion.
O’Connor presents a scene in which most of the details of the old woman’s house are the same as before. Belcher is in his usual spot by the fireplace and ‘Awkins is griping about religion. But all the life has been taken out of the atmosphere because of what Bonaparte and Noble now know. Now, they can only interact with Belcher and ‘Awkins as the soldiers they are, knowing that at any time they may be asked to execute them.