Back in the present, the teenage Tommo claims that he’s “not sure [he] ever believed in God,” even as a child in Sunday school. He would look at Jesus on the cross and think how much he must be hurting, and couldn’t understand why God wouldn’t help him. Still, Tommo decides that he shouldn’t think these thoughts, because tonight he “very much” wants to believe in God and in heaven.
This is the first occasion that Tommo expresses any major religious doubt in the novel. His background seems thoroughly religious, so it is surprising to learn that even as a child he was not sure whether or not he believed in God. The narrative still doesn’t explain what is so special about this particular night, or why Tommo now so desperately wants to believe in heaven.
One evening, Charlie and Tommo go poaching, but they have to go without Molly, as she is still ill with scarlet fever. It is the first time they have gone without her, and Tommo finds being on lookout so dull without her company that he falls asleep. The next thing he knows, a dog is at his face, and old Lambert, the Colonel’s bailiff, is pulling him up and shouting at him. Lambert marches Tommo and Charlie up to the Big House “at the point of a shotgun” and takes them to the Colonel and Grandma Wolf. Grandma Wolf calls the boys “a downright disgrace,” and “common thieves,” and then the Colonel calls them “young ruffians” and promises to beat both of the boys the next day as punishment.
It is perhaps telling that the first and only time that the boys go poaching without Molly, they get caught. It was apparently only Molly’s constant company that meant that Tommo could stay awake on lookout before. Now that Molly is no longer there, he is bored and falls asleep. Again, both Grandma Wolf and the Colonel show a lack of understanding and sympathy for the boys, and the Colonel’s proposed beating of the boys seems disproportionately cruel for their minor (and well-intentioned) crime.
Charlie and Tommo return home and tell their mother everything, to which she promises that the Colonel will not beat the boys, not “over [her] dead body.” She is upset and angry, but she knows deep down that the boys were trying to help, and decides that cleaning out the Colonel’s kennels will be punishment enough. The next day she visits the Colonel’s house, and true to her word manages to persuade him against beating the boys. Instead, they will clean out the kennels every weekend until Christmas.
Mrs. Peaceful is fiercely loyal and protective of her children. She also has enough common sense to realize that the boys didn’t mean anything terrible by poaching on the Colonel’s land, they were just doing it out of necessity. No one knows how she manages to persuade the Colonel not to beat the boys, but it is a remarkable achievement given the Colonel’s usual stubbornness.
The boys take to their punishment quite happily, as they like the company of the hunting hounds in the kennels. They have a particular favorite, a dog named Bertha. Tommo claims that Bertha’s big eyes are the same color as Molly’s, so she reminds him of her.
It is telling that one of the reasons that Tommo gives for liking Bertha so much is the fact that her eyes are the same color as Molly’s. It also proves that he has studied Molly’s eyes rather closely.
On the last weekend of their punishment, the boys return home to find Molly waiting in their house. Her hair is shorter, and Tommo says that “she wasn’t a girl any more. She had a different beauty now, a beauty that at once stirred in me a new and deeper love.”
Molly’s new and “different” beauty is illustrative of her becoming more of a woman. The new and “deeper” love that Tommo feels is a more grown-up kind of love as a result of this.
Again, Tommo starts feeling left out with Charlie and Molly, because they are outgrowing him. Molly moves up to Charlie’s older class at school, and eventually, both Charlie and Molly leave school altogether. Tommo is stuck in class, but both Charlie and Molly start working up at the Colonel’s “Big House,” which is where most people from the village work. Molly is an “under-parlor maid,” and Charlie starts working in the hunt kennels full-time.
It is unfortunate for Tommo that he is stuck in school while Charlie and Molly move into jobs at the Colonel’s estate. This change in the children’s lives demonstrates how a lot of relationships are based on convenience—simply being able to see a lot of one another, and being in the same place at the same time. It is not that Molly or Charlie like Tommo any less, it is just that they are transitioning into different stages of their lives while Tommo has to remain a little way behind them.
Tommo barely sees Molly anymore because she works so much, and when he does see her she seems different, “more like a little mother to [him] than a friend.” All Molly and Charlie talk about now is the Big House, and Tommo realizes that he is no longer part of their world. One day, he sees Charlie and Molly walking away from him while holding hands, and feels “a sudden ache” in his heart, which he claims is a “pang” of “deep grief.”
When Tommo sees Molly and Charlie holding hands, he understands that they have truly grown apart from him, and the “deep grief” he feels is not only for the loss of his childhood, but also for his dreams of being in love with Molly. He realizes Molly and Charlie are falling in love with each other instead.
Tommo recalls one rare occasion when he felt like a “threesome” with Molly and Charlie again. The three have just been fishing in a field, when suddenly they hear an engine. In amazement, they realize that a yellow airplane is flying above them, and they watch the pilot waving at them from the cockpit. The plane then lands in the field, only “fifty yards” away from them, and the pilot asks where he is. Charlie directs him to the next village, and as thanks, the pilot gives the children some humbugs candies. After he flies off, the three sit in the grass in shock. They can’t believe what just happened, but they suppose that at least they have the humbugs to prove it. Molly says that every time she eats a humbug from now on, she will think of “the three of us, and how we are right now.”
Only a remarkable adventure with a yellow airplane is enough to bring Molly, Charlie, and Tommo back together again, because it distracts them from the realities of their actual lives and allows them to escape into a land of fun and frivolity, like they did when they were younger. The airplane is also notably a very early hint of war in England. At around this time, the First World War was getting underway, but it was yet to reach the rural countryside lives of Tommo and his family.
Tommo has his humbugs confiscated at school, and the spiteful Mr. Munnings gives him six strokes of his ruler as punishment for having them in class. Tommo is very proud of himself because he is brave as he is punished, looking Mr. Munnings “in the eye” and staring him down defiantly. He longs to tell Charlie about his little victory, but feels like Charlie doesn’t care about anything that happens at school anymore.
Just as Charlie once bravely endured his punishment by Mr. Munnings, Tommo now faces his punishment with bravery, too. He is silent as he is struck by the ruler, just as Charlie was silent when he was getting the cane a few years before. It seems that Charlie inspired Tommo to be brave in facing Munnings, foreshadowing the way Charlie will inspire Tommo to be brave in an even more significant way.
That night, Charlie tells Tommo that he’s in big trouble. He has stolen Bertha the dog, because the Colonel said that he was going to shoot her the next day. Apparently, Bertha is too old and slow to be of use anymore. Charlie asked the Colonel to save Bertha, but he refused, so Charlie rescued her instead, and hid her in a shack in the woods.
This incident demonstrates that Charlie is not afraid to stand up for what he believes in if he feels that it is right. Even though the Colonel will inevitably punish Charlie for stealing Bertha, he cares for her strongly enough that he rescues her anyway.