A Separate Peace: Novel Summary: Chapter 7
Brinker Hadley, whom Gene likes in spite of his being the hub of student activities, enters and jokingly accuses Gene of arranging the situation so that Finny wouldn't come back and Gene would have the room to himself. Gene grows uncomfortable at this and tries to change the subject by suggesting that the two go to the Butt Room, Devon's dungeon-like smoking chamber. But Brinker is relentless in his mock accusation and he turns the Butt Room into a court room and conducts an interrogation, with the assistance of the other students already in the room. Gene grows tense and defensive, finally trying to lighten the situation with a false confession: "I-all I did was drop a little bit. . . a pinch of arsenic in his morning coffee" (81). But his attempt fails as Brinker says: "We know the scene of the crime, high in that. . . that funereal tree by the river" (81). Gene continues to mask his nervousness and guilt by joking around and finally escapes the trial by intimidating a younger student who was trying to take part in the interrogation.
Aside from this schoolboy ruse, no one suspects Gene of his deed. Thus far, the students' only war-related duties involve harvesting apples at a nearby orchard because the regular harvesters have gone into the war. Snow comes to Devon. Volunteers are needed to shovel out the railroad yards of the major Boston and Maine line. Gene, Brinker, and others volunteer. On their way to the railroad yard, Gene encounters the eccentric Leper, who has not volunteered, on touring skis in the middle of a field. Leper prefers crosss-country skiing to the downhill variety: "I just like to go along and see what I'm passing and enjoy myself" (87). Today, he is in search of a beaver dam, unlike his classmates who are all eager to be involved in the war.
Gene and the others dig a train line out of the snow and watch as a trainload of army recruits passes, men not much older than Gene. The students and soldiers cheer at each other. Gene writes: "Stranded in this mill town railroad yard while the whole world was converging elsewhere, we seemed to be nothing but children playing among heroic men" (89).
Quackenbush, another volunteer snow digger, is teased for saying that he will enter the army "step by step" (90). On their way home, the students encounter Leper again, who has found the beaver dam. Brinker is disgusted by Leper's dreamy ignorance of the war and declares that he will enlist tomorrow. Gene is excited by the prospect of enlisting and entertains the thought: "The war would be deadly all right. But I was used to finding something deadly in things that attracted me; there was always something deadly lurking in anything I wanted, anything I loved. And if it wasn't there, as for example with Phineas, then I put it there myself" (92). After much deliberation, Gene decides to enlist. "Why go through the motions of getting an education and watch the war slowly chip away at the one thing I had loved here, the peace, the measureless, careless peace of the Devon summer?" (93) he asks himself. Excited at having decided, Gene rushes back to his room and all the events fade upon his discovery that Phineas is back.