The novel flashes back to January 1916. Arriving in England on the S.S. Massanabie, Robert and Harris are sent to an old country house where the C.F.A. keeps its reserve brigades. They become close friends during their stay. Once Robert’s legs heal, he takes his embarkation leave in London because Harris is sent to a hospital there after his pneumonia worsens. Robert is Harris’s only visitor, coming to see his friend nearly every day. This experience confuses Robert, since he has not felt called to support someone in this way since Rowena died.
Robert forms a close bond with Harris, likely because the young man’s debilitating illness reminds him of his sister Rowena’s condition. Having lost his sense of identity as Rowena’s “guardian” after she passed away, he feels a renewed sense of purpose in his role as a friend for Harris, and therefore feels that it is his duty to give him moral support.
One evening at the hospital, Robert runs into Taffler and a woman named Lady Barbara d’Orsey, who are there to visit a man encased in bandages. Taffler briefly says something to the man while Barbara watches with a blank expression, after which they abruptly leave. Robert senses that the bandaged man is screaming in silent agony. A nurse tells him that the man is Captain Villiers, whose vocal cords were destroyed when he was trapped in a fire. She comments that she does not know how Barbara “dares to come here.”
The nurse’s reaction to Barbara suggests that she is somehow to blame for Captain Villiers’s pain, or is mocking him by visiting him with another man. As a new soldier, Robert is horrified by the man’s terrible injuries, a reaction that foreshadows the trauma he, too, will experience once he enters combat. Robert’s intrigue here is ironic, considering that his death by fire was revealed early on in the story.