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Charles comes back to London in May of 1926. His father is "delighted" to have him back "so soon," though he’s been away fifteen months.
That night he dines out with his new gang and bumps into Anthony Blanche and Boy Mulcaster. Anthony is taunting Boy, who’s considering going to the Old Hundredth later – in short, nothing has changed.
Anthony takes Charles aside and they discuss Sebastian (like we said, nothing has changed). Anthony explains that Sebastian came to live with him in France after parting ways with Charles. He drank all day long and even stole and pawned two of Anthony’s suits for cash for more booze.
Anthony tried to help him with his alcoholism problem, it would seem, by getting him into other activities/substances instead. "If you want to be intoxicated," he says, "there are so many much more delicious things [than alcohol]." (It’s unclear whether the man Anthony sends Sebastian to is a male prostitute or a drug dealer.)
But Sebastian writes a bad check to the supplier of these activities and/or substances, which is bad news, in the mobster’s-coming-after-you sort of way.
Mulcaster rejoins them and Anthony continues: he went to Tangiers with Sebastian and met his new friend, the German, who shot his foot to get out of the army. Anthony wasn’t a fan, so he left them and came back to England alone.
Mulcaster, not entertained by the conversation, leaves to ring the fire alarm, so as to liven things up.
Anthony reveals that Sebastian and his friend went to French Morocco – he thinks they were in trouble with the police in Tangiers. Since he’s come back to London, Sebastian’s mother has been badgering him to try and get in touch with her son.
Because Mulcaster has prank called an alarm, two fire engines pull up just as he and Charles leave the nightclub. Mulcaster remarks that he doesn’t think a lot of Anthony, and the two of them spend the night talking about the war.
The conversation results in Charles’s decision to join a flying squad in London. He sees action only once, when a group of young rebels attacks a few policemen. That’s about it. Then the General Strike is called off, and there’s not much to do after that.
Julia hears that Charles is in England again and contacts him; Lady Marchmain is ill and wants to see him, she says.
Charles hurries to Marchmain House in London, where he meets Julia and is informed that Lady Marchmain is dying.
Julia tells him that her mother is terribly sorry for being so "beastly" to him with regards to Sebastian’s drinking. She also wants to know if Charles can help fetch Sebastian to the house now.
Before he goes to bed for the night, Charles learns that Brideshead didn’t help England with the General Strike problem and that Cordelia is there in London as well, helping to take care of her mother.
So Charles takes off in search of Sebastian. He travels to Fez (in Morocco) and dines with the British Consul to find out about his friend.
The Consul is pleased that someone has finally come to take Sebastian off their hands. He likes the boy, it’s just that Sebastian needs something to do with himself. He’s also still hanging around with the German guy, who is a big leech.
Charles heads to Sebastian’s place and notes the Moroccan scenery as he travels. Back then, says narrator Charles, he thought it was suburban and modern. But thinking back on it now, he finally understands what holds Sebastian here.
When Charles enters what he is told is Sebastian’s residence, he finds the German that he’s heard all about, listening to jazz music and sitting in a chair with a bandaged foot. One of his front teeth is missing and he speaks with an amusing lisp.
The German informs him that Sebastian is ill and in the infirmary. He then explains a brief history of his own life, which involves joining the army and then shooting himself in the foot to get out. He adds that his foot is full of pus. Thanks.
Charles explains that Sebastian’s mother is ill; the German hopes that this will mean more money for them to spend.
So Charles heads for the hospital, which is being run by Franciscan brothers. He discovers that Sebastian is recovering from the grippe – he is OK but not exactly fit for traveling.
The Franciscan with whom Charles converses has been completely taken in by Sebastian, whom he praises for never complaining and for taking in the poor German soldier with a foot full of pus.
Finally, Charles is taken to see his friend. He notes that Sebastian looks "emaciated" and run down. Sebastian explains to him that, these days, he just couldn’t manage if he didn’t have Kurt.
Charles breaks the news about Lady Marchmain, but Sebastian simply calls her a femmefatale.
Charles continues to visit Sebastian as he heals; Sebastian continues to get his friend to sneak him in alcohol. This concerns the doctor, who blames Sebastian’s sickness on the alcoholism to begin with.
Then the men receive word that Lady Marchmain is dead. Sebastian still hesitates to return to England, because he’s not sure if Kurt would like it there. He explains that he’s been taken care of his whole life, and he likes that now he finally has someone to take care of himself.
So Charles takes Sebastian back home, where he immediately begins waiting on Kurt though still so ill himself. Charles also arranges the finances so that Sebastian’s funds are limited to a weekly allowance and so that Kurt won’t drain him of his money. Then he goes to London to finish these financial affairs.
In London Charles meets up with Brideshead, explains the situation, and gets him to agree to this new plan for Sebastian’s money.
Then Brideshead explains that Marchmain House is being pulled down, and his father would like four oil paintings of the estate to commemorate it. Charles agrees to create the paintings, works as quickly and possible, and ends up producing what are still four of his favorite works.
While he paints, Cordelia comes by to watch. She is older now (fifteen) but not as beautiful as Julia.
Charles takes her out to dinner and they talk about Sebastian. He realizes that Cordelia knew more than he thought she did. She professes that she loves her brother "more than anyone."
She informs Charles that the chapel at Brideshead was closed after her mother’s requiem.
She wishes Charles could understand the affinity people feel for their place of religious worship, and quotes this line: Quomodo sedet sola civitas.
(Note: This is the first line of a religious chant. It means "How the city sits alone…" The next line is pleno populo, which means "which was full with people." Celia is describing the chapel which, once full, has now been closed.)
This, of course, launches Cordelia into yet another religious conversation. It seems as though members of her family have left God, but this isn’t so, she says. Cordelia quotes a priest and claims that, though Sebastian and Julia may wander from their religion, they are forever held by a string tying them to it. They can be brought back any moment "with a twitch upon the thread," she explains.
She goes on to talk about her mother. She was closer to her than her siblings, but she doesn’t think she ever really loved her. (Yikes.) She adds that "when people wanted to hate God, they hated [Lady Marchmain]."
Cordelia hopes that she has a vocation, so that she can become a nun. Her brother Brideshead wishes he had one, but he doesn’t.
Charles, meanwhile, has no interest in this religious chatter. He "felt the brush take life in [his] hand that afternoon," he says. He is so inspired by the work he’s done on the paintings that he can think of nothing but art.
And the first half of the novel ends with Cordelia asking for another meringue.