On June 16, 1916, Robert’s family receives word that he is missing in action. Mrs. Ross refuses to get dressed and wanders around the house, crying out in a drunken stupor. Miss Davenport, Mr. Ross, Peggy, and Stuart are alarmed by her behavior. Stuart does not wish Robert ill, but is exhilarated at the thought of his brother receiving the Victoria Cross and sharing the news of his death at school.
Mrs. Ross’s disturbing reaction to the news of Robert’s disappearance is yet another example of the detrimental effects that war has on families, as well as soldiers. The fact that Stuart is still focused on impressing his classmates with Robert’s achievements shows that heroism is a high ideal for young men, to the point that dying honorably in battle is still viewed as a triumph rather than a tragedy.
That evening, Mrs. Ross stands on the landing of the stairs, drops her bottle of alcohol, and lets out an “agonizing cry.” She calls out for help and tells Mr. Ross that she has gone blind. The narration describes Robert’s framed portrait in the family’s drawing room fading into darkness.
As eyes are an ongoing symbol of guilt and vulnerability, the fact that Mrs. Ross goes blind suggests that she is completely overcome by the internalized self-blame she feels over the danger that Robert is in. The surreal image of Robert’s portrait fading away suggests that his family is already mourning him—they, like the soldiers on the battlefield, have come to expect the worst.