One morning at breakfast, Jake gets a letter from Mike saying that Brett fainted on the train, they spent three days in San Sebastian for her to rest, and will arrive in Pamplona on Wednesday.
Both Jake's jealous belief that Mike and Brett had stopped in San Sebastian for a bit of romance, and Cohn's belief that Brett had stopped there to see him, prove to be wrong. Brett just got sick.
Jake realizes he doesn't know what day it is. Harris tells him it's Wednesday. Later that same day they receive a telegram from Cohn, which says that he will arrive in Burgueta on Thursday. They respond that instead they are returning to Pamplona that night.
In the bliss of the fishing trip, free of worries, time has flown by. Jake has even lost track of the basic trappings of civilization, like days of the week. But in the instant he hears from Brett, he decides to leave the bliss behind and return to see her. Cohn, meanwhile, is once again going the wrong way at the wrong time.
Before departing, Jake and Bill go to a pub with Harris. They invite him to come to Pamplona with them, but he decides he would rather stay and fish. Nevertheless, he says that he's had such a good time with them, and that he's not had much fun since the war. Bill insists paying for the last drink, since Harris has paid for everything so far. As they say goodbye, Harris gives them gifts of flies for fishing, and hopes when they use the flies to fish they will remember what a good time they all had.
There is true friendship between Jake, Bill, and Harris. They like the same things, which seems simple, but it's not something you can say about Jake's "friends" in Paris. Yet Bill continues to see relationships as being transactional—you bought a drink for me, I'll even things up buy buying one for you. Harris, in contrast, gives them a gift. All he wants are the good memories.
They arrive in Pamplona as the central square is being prepared for the fiesta. The others have already arrived at Montoya's hotel. It's clear that Montoya does not think much of them. Jake and Montoya begin to talk about the bulls. Montoya calls Jake an aficion, which is someone with genuine passion for the bulls. It's generally agreed that an American can't have real passion for the bulls, but Jake is the exception, and when Montoya introduces him to his friends, they realize this and put their hands on his shoulder, as if touching him formally acknowledges their shared gift.
Montoya is dedicated to bullfighting—to its passion, artistry, and singleness of purpose. He can see that Jake's friends have none of those things, and in fact have become corrupters of those things. But he is willing to overlook it for Jake's benefit. Jake's knowledge and passion about bullfighting gives him membership to a special club.
Jake and Bill find the others at a bar across the square. Mike and Brett are wearing traditional local hats. Bill asks Mike if he knew Harris in the war, to which Brett responds by saying what a distinguished soldier Mike was. She asks him to tell them stories from the war. He refuses at first, then finally tells how he once had a dinner wit the Prince of Wales to which he had to wear his war medals, but because he no longer had them and couldn't even remember what medals he had won, he bought some medals from another man.
The need for belonging follows the group into Spain. They all relish any opportunity to try on a different culture and get further away from their own insecure identities. Mike's war story paints him as a true hero—a man who won medals for bravery, but cared so little for the medals he didn't even keep them.
Talk then turns to Mike's recent bankruptcy, which Mike says was the result of having both false friends and creditors. Everyone starts to feel a bit gloomy given the unpleasant subject, and they head down to watch the arrival of the bulls along with everyone else in town.
Yet it is a long way from war to peace, and Mike's former glory means little in this time, when money is what matters and he has lost his. When the men get depressed, they again turn to sports as a stand-in for the war.
The bulls are in cages, dragged into place by men and mules, and then the gates of the cages are lifted. When released, the bulls charge out of their cages, furious and muscles quivering. Steers (castrated males) mill around to help calms the bulls. As Jake explains to Brett how the bull uses his horns like a boxer, another bull is released and gores one of the steers. By the end of the unloading, the injured steer is alone and the other steers have formed a herd.
Jake's expertise is on display here. Note how the political dynamics of the bulls mimic the competition between the men in the group—the strong animals group together, leaving the weak one alone. Jake and his friends do the same, often singling out Cohn as a group.
Afterwards, they go to a café and discuss the unloading. Cohn jokes that he wouldn't want to be a steer, at which Mike erupts in fury, saying that Cohn is exactly like a steer with Brett, always following her around. Bill takes the upset Cohn for a walk to calm him down. Mike, meanwhile, says that Brett is very open about her affairs with men, but that none of them were Jews who hung around like Cohn. As things settle down, they all decide not to let it spoil the fiesta and to act as though nothing has happened, to blame it on being drunk.
Mike's jealousy finally erupts in his attach on Cohn, but aren't all the men like steers compared to Brett, following her around. Jake, like the steers, is literally impotent. And that, of course, inverts the normal gender order, making Brett the bull. But Jake and his friends don't use this conflict to change anything. They just avoid it. They blame it on alcohol just as they blame everything else. They continue in their rut.
Back at the hotel, Montoya and Jake agree that the bulls looked all right but that they have a bad feeling about them. That night, despite everything, the group has a nice meal. Brett looks stunning in a black dress, and Cohn watches her relentlessly. Jake likens it to dinners during the war, when everyone ignored the tension and there was a feeling of inevitability. His night ends with him feeling happy and fond of everybody.
The unexplained 'bad feeling' about the bulls is ominous. In the war, the men had to ignore the tension of the likelihood of death coming at any moment because that was the only way to continue functioning. And that tactic of ignoring tension works sometimes in normal life, too, as this pleasant meal shows. But in life, ignoring things never can last for long..