We return to our frame story, where Charles and his fellow officers are camping out at the Brideshead estate during WWII.
The commanding officer calls it "the worst place [they’ve] struck yet" because of the lack of amenities. When he asks if anyone knows the area, Charles says nothing.
Shortly after, a lieutenant-colonel takes Charles around the castle. He narrates that it belongs to a Lady Julia Flyte, who used to be married to Rex something-or-other. She’s abroad. He finds it odd that the old Marquis left everything to his daughter, and that this decision was "rough on the boys" (likely meaning it was hard for Lord Marchmain’s sons to accept).
As he shows Charles around the different rooms, he mentions the rather modern paintings on the walls that the soldiers have mostly destroyed while lodging there. (These, of course, are Charles’s paintings.)
The lieutenant-colonel points out the Chinese drawing-room and the fountain outside, which he knows to have great sentimental value to Lady Julia. He throws a cigarette into the empty fountain before leaving Charles.
Charles then explores the castle alone. He runs into the old housemaid who recognizes him and points him upstairs to Nanny Hawkins.
Nanny explains to Charles what’s happened in the last few years. Brideshead and Beryl kept getting turned out of their place of residence by the military. Mr. Mottram is doing very well politically and financially. Julia and Cordelia are together abroad, helping with the war effort in what Nanny believes to be Palestine, where Brideshead is as well with his yeomanry.
After speaking with Nanny Hawkins, Charles leaves and finds Hooper, who asks if Charles knows this place.
Charles responds that yes, he does, that it belongs to friends of his. He remembers asking Sebastian the same thing so many years ago, and Sebastian answering that it was the place where his family lives.
Hooper finds it wasteful that such a large place was built for just one family.
Charles responds that buildings are built for a strict purpose. He imagines it’s much like having a son and wondering how he’ll grow up.
Then he adds: "I don’t know; I never built anything, and I forfeited the right to watch my son grow up. I’m homeless, childless, middle-aged, loveless."
Hooper decides to take this as a joke, and laughs.
Charles then heads, alone, to the one part of Brideshead he hasn’t yet revisited: the chapel. He finds that it looks as bright and new as ever, and that a lamp is still burning before the altar. He says a prayer and leaves.
Charles reflects on the men who originally built Brideshead and all the architectural changes it went through throughout the years. He feels that all that work has been "brought to nothing," and reflects on the line quomodo sedet sola civitas. (Remember, this means "How the city sits alone" and is followed by "which was once filled by people." You heard this line the first time at the end of Book I, when Cordelia quotes it to Charles.)
Charles then cites another religious saying, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." Yet Charles feels this is "a dead word from ten years back."
Charles feels that something unintended came from all the work of the builders and out of the "small tragedy" in which he took part: the "small red flame" burning inside the terribly-designed art-nouveau lamp before the tabernacle on the altar. Charles is renewed by this discovery, convinced that such a flame burns for everyone, and that it could have been lit again "only for the builders and the tragedians."
He quickens his pace and walks back to the hut, where the second-in-command remarks that he is looking "unusually cheerful today."