Maurice picks up Ursula at Egerton Gardens to take her to Fox Corner for Hugh’s birthday—though she knows he is only doing this because it would have been awkward to drive home without having given her a lift. Before she leaves, Ursula takes off the wedding ring she wears for appearances’ sake when she’s not at work. Crighton kisses her goodbye and tells her to have a nice time.
Even though Crighton and Ursula are defying social expectations, Ursula still has a hard time owning that defiance. Ursula, even more than Crighton would cause a scandal if people knew she was living with a man without being married to him, and so she chooses to play into this societal norm.
At dinner, Izzie asks Ursula if she’s met any nice men. Maurice makes fun of Ursula saying she’s been “left on the shelf,” until Maurice’s wife Edwina scolds him for his manners. Edwina is also angry with Maurice because he had just hired a driver, who turned out to be an attractive young woman.
Maurice continues to be his less-than-charming self and also reveals his double-standard concerning marriage: he criticizes Ursula for not being able to catch a man, but it is implied that he is also cruelly cheating on his wife.
Ursula interrupts Maurice to say that she doesn’t feel “on the shelf,” and wishes that Crighton were there at the table. Teddy supports her, saying she does all right on her own. Izzie defends her as well, saying that Ursula is only thirty—Izzie married at forty.
In contrast to Maurice, Izzie and Teddy continue to be Ursula’s ardent supporters. Izzie in particular lauds Ursula for her choices because she, like Izzie herself, is choosing to carve her own path in opposition to traditional gender expectations.
The whole family has gathered for Hugh’s birthday except for Pamela, for whom the journey was too challenging. Jimmy has a few days’ leave and Teddy has brought Nancy along as well. Hugh asks Teddy when he’s going to pop the question; Nancy blushes and says there will be plenty of time for that after the war. Teddy has recently graduated from Training School and is about to head to Canada to train as a pilot.
It is notable that in addition to Ursula being much happier in the timelines after her abuse, Teddy is also much happier due to Nancy’s survival (which came about only when Ursula rebuffed Howie’s advances). This reinforces the connection between Ursula’s and Teddy’s lives, and their happiness.
Izzie quotes, “Courtship to marriage, as a very witty prologue to a very dull play.” Sylvie is baffled by this comment, pointing out that Izzie is married. Izzie says that for her, marriage is about freedom, while for Sylvie, it’s about confinement. Sylvie says that Izzie is talking nonsense. Izzie goes on, wondering what life Sylvie might have led without it, as the daughter of a late bankrupt artist. The tension is broken with Bridget bringing in a roast duck for dinner.
Izzie and Sylvie’s ongoing quarrel over the idea of marriage never shifts. Izzie’s idea of marriage is one of a woman maintaining her stature, going against the traditional idea (held by Sylvie) that women should be subservient to their husbands, and then to their children as well.
Sylvie and Izzie spend the rest of the dinner irritated with each other, while Ursula and Jimmy pointedly try to wish Hugh a happy birthday with the wishbone. Amnesty is brought about by the cake, but just as Hugh is about to blow out the candles, a commotion erupts outside—it is Pamela, who has brought her four boys with her.
Although the war takes its toll, and although various members of the family have their quarrels, the love and support of the Todd family lies at the heart of the book, as represented by all of them coming together for Hugh’s 60th birthday (the last time that Ursula will see some of them in this lifetime).
Ursula returns to Crighton and tells him tales of the day as they lie in bed drinking hot chocolate. As she lays there, it strikes her that she might actually be happy. In the morning, however, Crighton brings her a tray of tea and toast, and announces that Norway has fallen. Ursula is simply relieved that she knows Teddy and Jimmy are safe in Fox Corner for the morning.
Ursula’s independence from marriage allows her these happy moments with Crighton, but her happiness is often juxtaposed with the misery of war, and her worry over her family’s safety. This sets up the primary conflict at the end of the book: whether losing her life and her happiness is worth sacrificing to potentially avert the war.