Ursula is visiting Pamela at her home in Finchley, London. Pamela is pregnant again, this time hoping for a girl. She and Ursula chat about Pamela and Harold’s most recent visit to Maurice’s house, when Maurice had said that the war would only last a few months. Ursula remarks that he has a job in the Home Office, in the new Home Security department, so he ought to know.
This and the following chapters begin to explore the massive ramifications of World War II throughout England and Europe. Pamela and Ursula (and Maurice, for that matter), don’t seem to grasp the gravity of this conflict, and how all-encompassing it will be for years to come.
Ursula also has a job in the Home Office. After school she had not gone to a traditional university; instead, she had gone to a small secretarial college because she had been rather eager to earn her independence. The college was run by a man named Mr. Carver, who tried to make “his girls” wear blindfolds when they typed. Ursula led a revolt of the girls, suspecting something sinister beneath the practice. The other girls admired her rebelliousness, but Ursula thought that she was merely being sensible.
While many of the adjustments in Ursula’s timelines lead to different outcomes (for example, here, Ursula’s newfound empowerment allows her to stand up to creepy Mr. Carver), there are other aspects of her life that are somewhat unchanged. The fact that Ursula doesn’t manage to avoid that particular secretarial school altogether in this lifetime implies that some fates are harder to avoid than others, because Ursula can have many different reasons for wanting to attend the college.
Ursula had then gotten a job in the Home Office, rising through the ranks in various clerical jobs over the years. Since 1936 she’s been working in the Air Raid Precautions department. Back at Pamela’s house in Finchley, Ursula thinks that they’re very merry for people who are on the brink of war.
Ursula understands the gravity of the war, perhaps because to some degree she has already lived it, and subconsciously understands the toll it will take on her, her family, and the war at large.
Pamela has spent the morning organizing evacuees from London. Ursula wonders whether Pamela will stay in the city, and tells her she should go to Fox Corner. Pamela says she’d rather not stay with Sylvie; instead, she has a friend from her university with a cottage in Yorkshire and can take her sons (Nigel, Andrew, and Christopher) there.
The vast reach of the war becomes apparent almost immediately, as Pamela and many others choose to uproot their lives in order to preemptively avoid the bombing that they know is imminent.
Pamela asks how “The Man from the Admiralty” is. Ursula has been involved with Crighton for a year. He is fifteen years older than Ursula, married, and has three daughters. The first time they made love (in an apartment provided for him in London), he told Ursula he would never leave his family, and she didn’t expect him to. Pamela asks if she loves him; Ursula responds that she likes him. Pamela is skeptical of their adulterous relationship, arguing that marriage is a part of the nuts and bolts that hold society together. But she admits that she admires Ursula for being her own woman, and not following the herd.
Pamela’s view of marriage feels less rigid than Sylvie’s, and seems to come more from a place of contentedness in her own marriage (and thus wanting Ursula to experience that same happiness) than from wanting to impose societal norms on her sister for the sake of propriety. This is particularly evident when she admits that she admires Ursula for her independence and for finding fulfillment in her own way, demonstrating that Pamela (unlike Sylvie) prioritizes Ursula’s happiness over societal conventions.
Crighton had been at the Battle of Jutland and had “seen much,” but his life had become rather boring following World War I; he told Ursula that she brought excitement to his life. He had also become remorseful over the secretive nature of their relationship, but Ursula knew that if her colleagues got wind of their affair, there would have been a scandal. She has become good at keeping secrets.
Crighton and Ursula’s relationship establishes a societal pattern that continues throughout the war: people who are taking more advantage of their present moment, because the future is so uncertain.
Pamela worries that Harold will have to remain in London—that he’ll probably be called up to serve if the city is bombed and gassed. Pamela grows depressed, thinking that this is probably their last day of normal life for a while. Ursula herself was supposed to go on holiday, but instead she had stocked up on supplies, food and warm clothing (and had refrained from buying a yellow dress). Harold appears and informs them that the hospital is already evacuating patients. He says that it seems likely that war will be declared the following day.
Even before the toll of the dead starts streaming in, society already starts to be unsettled by the mere idea of war. Lives are not merely ended and disrupted by the war, but even the lives of the people who survive are put on pause, awaiting the potential damage that might occur.