In a photograph from the spring of 1915, Robert is pictured in his army uniform, sitting on a keg of water with a campground behind him. He is holding a small animal skull in his hand, either of a rabbit or a badger. In reference to this photo, Findley quotes the Irish essayist and critic Nicholas Fagan, who says that “the spaces between the perceiver and the thing perceived can…be closed with a shout of recognition. One form of a shout is a shot. Nothing so completely verifies our perception of a thing as killing it.”
Findley’s reference to this quote expresses one of the novel’s central ideas: that the techniques and weaponry of modern warfare allow enemies to be physically and emotionally separated from one another. By removing any direct recognition or physical contact between enemies, the trauma of war becomes disorienting and senseless. Findley’s ongoing criticism of this reality alongside Miss Turner and Juliet’s empathy for Robert advocates for a more humanized view of war that considers all people as complex individuals.
The narration again switches to the reader’s point of view. Back in the public archives from the beginning of the novel, the archivist closes her book and rises, momentarily distracted by the sound of birds outside the window. She begins to turn out the lights and tells you that it is time to leave. You gather your research into bundles, and the last thing you see before putting on your coat is a photograph of Rowena on the back of the Ross family’s pony, Meg, with Robert holding her in place. On the back of the photo is written “Look! You can see our breath!” And you can.
Robert and Rowena’s breath in this photograph suggests that the innocence that was seemingly lost with the deaths of these two characters still lives on through memory. By contrasting a gunshot in the previous passage with the notion of a photographic snapshot in this passage, Findley ends the novel on an optimistic note that hearkens back to Rodwell’s letter to his daughter in Part 3. While ordinary people are capable of terrible atrocities, the inherent goodness of humanity—and at the very least, their “breath” and aliveness—still carries on.