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We open with Charles, Julia, Cordelia, Lady Marchmain, Brideshead, and Sebastian back at Brideshead castle, two days after Christmas.
Mr. Samgrass is narrating the events of his travels with Sebastian.
It’s clear that something is up. Sebastian isn’t in the pictures, and Samgrass insists that it’s because he was holding the camera. Charles can tell there’s something that he’s not willing to tell Lady Marchmain.
Oddly enough, Anthony Blanche is in one of the photos; they bumped into him in Constantinople and he traveled with them to Beirut.
Sebastian himself looks weary, thinner, pale. Charles is concerned for his health.
Ryder tells his friend all about his time in art school in Paris. He is not impressed with the students or the teachers, and agrees with Cordelia that modern art is "bosh."
As they wait for dinner, Sebastian rings for Wilcox to bring drinks – but he’s busy having an intimate conversation with Lady Marchmain.
Brideshead finally corners Charles alone to tell him that his mother doesn’t want Sebastian drinking. Apparently Mr. Samgrass lost him over Christmas and found him again the night before.
This is apparently all in vain, as Charles finds Sebastian alone in his room, drinking.
Shortly after Charles finds himself alone with Julia, who’s still treating Sebastian’s alcoholism with casual annoyance. She mentions that there’s something fishy about Mr. Samgrass but that her mother only sees what she wants to, and adds that she herself is causing trouble for the family, too.
That night at dinner, Sebastian asks for whiskey and is given half a glass. It’s one of those tension-filled family dinners with which we’re familiar.
Brideshead talks about hunting the next day, and Sebastian adds he’d like to go as well, much to everyone’s surprise. (Wait for it…)
Later, Sebastian explains to Charles that he plans on ditching the hunting as soon as they all split up and spending the day at a pub in town. (There it is.)
Then he asks for money, the better to drink at a pub with. He has none of his own and even pawned his watch for cash when he was abroad. He tells all about his time with Mr. Samgrass and the various ways he managed to escape the man’s company.
The next morning, Charles concedes and gives Sebastian two pounds before he heads off to the hunt.
Ryder is left alone at the house with Samgrass, who attempts to keep up the charade regarding a supposedly successful Christmas break with Sebastian.
But Charles is having none of it; he knows the truth, he says, and it’s clear that he’s not willing to discuss his friend with this jerk.
Samgrass explains that Sebastian can’t possibly get into any trouble today because he has no money and no one would possibly be wicked enough to give him some. (Oops.)
Then Julia enters and explains that Rex is arriving today. She asks if Charles is going to paint another medallion on the wall of the garden room, since he has done one on each of his visits to Brideshead (there are now three completed).
Julia brings up Sebastian; if he’s going to get drunk all the time, she says, he should go away somewhere else. It’s clear to Charles that she’s more concerned with embarrassment for the family than she is about her brother’s severe depression.
Then Lady Marchmain puts in her two cents. They have to keep Sebastian with them, or accompanied by Mr. Samgrass. Charles knows but doesn’t say that Sebastian will run away again – just like Lord Marchmain did – because he hates her just like his father does.
Then Charles talks to Brideshead, who manages to bring what Charles considers to be religious overtones into the mix. If he ever felt like becoming a Catholic, Charles says, talking with Bridey would have been enough to convince him otherwise.
And now for some comic relief. Rex has arrived with a Christmas present for Julia: a small tortoise with Julia’s initials set into the living shell in diamonds. Lady Marchmain appropriately wonders if it eats the same thing as normal tortoises. Mr. Samgrass wants to know if they’ll fit another tortoise into the shell when this one dies.
Rex also has a solution for Sebastian: ship him off to a guy he knows who fixes this sort of problem, in Zurich.
Cordelia comes back from the hunting party, ravenous and reporting that Sebastian is "in disgrace."
Sebastian calls the house, asking to be picked up from a hotel bar. When he gets back "two-thirds drunk," Lady Marchmain lets him drink more.
After a drunken dinner Sebastian goes to bed, drunk, as you might have guessed.
The next morning, Charles asks if his friend if he wants him to stay at Brideshead. No, says Sebastian – Charles is no help.
So Ryder goes to say good-bye to the family. When Lady Marchmain gets him alone, he admits to having given Sebastian money the day before.
She calls Charles "cruel" and "wicked," but sounds more disappointed than angry.
Charles is unmoved by Lady Marchmain. He drives away from Marchmain house and feels as though he’s left some part of himself behind him. He commits to never go back and declares that he’s left behind a world of illusion to move into a real world of real dimensions, to be experienced with the five senses.
In retrospect, Charles says that there is no such world – but he did not know this at the time.
So Charles returns to Paris, thinking he’s done with Brideshead.
Not so much. He gets a letter from Cordelia three weeks later. She is sorry he went away and isn’t angry with him for slipping Sebastian money because, quite honestly, she’s been supplying him booze herself. She also reports that Samgrass is gone and that Julia and Rex are getting very close, much to her dismay. Also, Rex is taking Sebastian to that fix-all German doctor.
Oh, and the diamond-encrusted tortoise buried itself to die.
About a week later, Charles gets back to his rooms to find Rex waiting for him. It seems that, on the way to Zurich, he has lost Sebastian.
Rex has come to see if Sebastian is with Charles, but Ryder declares he is done with that family. (Oh, just wait.)
The men go out to dinner; it’s Charles’s job to order and Rex’s job to pay. Eager to make Rex happy, Charles orders an elaborate, many, many course dinner.
Charles asks about the news from Brideshead: did everyone talk about him after he left?
Yes, said Rex. A few days after his departure, Julia realized Samgrass was a fake and called him out on having lost Sebastian and failing at his chaperoning duties. That was the end of Samgrass at Brideshead, and Lady Marchmain regretted having given Charles such a hard time.
Then when, they realized Cordelia had been slipping Sebastian whisky every night, they figured it was time to do something drastic. Meanwhile Lady Marchmain is very sick and refuses to get treatment – maybe something to do with her religion, suspects Rex.
Rex explains that they are in trouble financially, too. They’re overdrawn 100,000 pounds in London (you don’t even want to think about how much money that was in the 1920s).
As Rex goes on about the state of Sebastian’s family, the dialogue is interspersed with Charles's monomaniacal (obsessive about a singular thing) comments about the meal. If you’re reading, you’ll be full by the end of the chapter.
Speaking of money, Rex would like to marry Julia, sooner rather than later. Lady Marchmain doesn’t want this to happen, because Rex isn’t from the same class as Julia, and because he’s not a Catholic.
Also, he's been carrying on an affair with a prominent society woman named Brenda Champion, from whom he’s derived all his social and political connections. So there’s that.
Anyway, since Lady Marchmain won’t bite, Rex is headed to Italy to get Julia’s father to approve the marriage.
Dinner has progressed to the cognac. Rex doesn’t like it and has them bring out something better, which he also vetoes. Finally they bring out the good stuff, to Rex's satisfaction. Charles busies himself with his own drink and ignores the rest of Rex’s words.
In May, Rex and Julia’s engagement is announced; in June they are married quickly and quietly without a big affair – which is not the way Rex wanted things to go.