That afternoon, Brinker Hadley comes across the hall to see Finny. Brinker is a handsome guy, a typical prep-school leader-type.
Brinker starts joking about Phineas's absence. In fact, he starts to jokingly accuse Gene of having orchestrated the entire fiasco in order to have this big room to himself.
Gene tries to jokingly play along, and quickly suggests that they go down to the "Butt Room" in the basement to have a smoke.
The pair heads downstairs where a group of ten or so are already there smoking. Unfortunately for Gene, Brinker continues his earlier "joke," calling Gene a "prisoner" and turning him over, so to speak, to the other boys.
During the very suspenseful scene that follows, the others all play along in "accusing" Gene of pushing Finny out of the tree. One of the younger boys seems to take the whole thing seriously, so Gene woefully embarrasses him in front of the others.
To escape, Gene again pretends along with the joke, in a "Sure, yeah, I did it" fashion. Except as he jokingly narrates the incident, he can't bring himself to say the words "then I pushed him out of the tree." (Guilty much?)
As the semester continues, the boys busy themselves with classes and sports. Brinker turns out to be not only a naturally born leader, but the worst poet to have ever lived. He composes short odes of overly-simplistic rhyming schemes.
Gene realizes that, to these boys, the war is still a bore (as one of Brinker's poems so eloquently states). Their lives are still "very close" to peace.
When an early snow comes to the school, the boys help out the war effort by digging out train tracks. Gene, Brinker, Chet Douglass, and even Quackenbush volunteer, but Leper, still a budding naturalist, does not.
Instead, Gene finds him sporting cross-country skis and heading into the woods. He's "touring," he says – observing nature and on the hunt for a beaver dam that used to sit somewhere up the Devon river.
Gene wishes him luck and departs. It's always a struggle, he says, not to make fun of Leper (the dude is basically asking for it). Still, he says, the more he got to know the kid, the easier it got.
The whole clearing the railroad tracks escapade is less than fun. When the tracks are finally free of snow, a train of young soldiers runs through. The Devon boys all yell and cheer back and forth with the young men on the train. Gene observes that the troops are not much older than he and his friends. In fact, they all seem to be having a good time. It's clear that they're "going places."
Once the train is gone, the Devon boys are left with the feeling that they are merely "children playing among heroic men."
On the way back to campus, the boys all complain about how useless things like Latin and French are in times of war. They lament that they will never have the opportunity to tell their children war stories or to see real battle.
When they get back to campus, tired and irritable, the boys catch sight of Leper, returning from his beaver-related expedition. Brinker starts to poke fun, but Gene cuts him off by asking Leper if he found what he was looking for.
Leper, all innocent, absent smiles, affirms that yes, he did.
When Brinker hears about the beaver dam, he isn't happy. "That's the kind of a place I'm in with a world war going on," he says, a place where kids go hunting for beaver dams. He decides that he's given up – that he's going to enlist tomorrow.
Gene is thrilled by this declaration. They've all been waiting for this a long time, for the first among them to leave school and join the military.
He knows that a life in the military wouldn't necessarily be a good one. In fact, it would likely be a deadly one. But he is "used to finding something deadly in things that attracted [him]; there [is] always something deadly lurking in anything [he] want[s]" (7.116).
Creepy! And also very important, for those of you who happen to have a highlighter handy.
On his way back to the dormitory that night, Gene contemplates the matter further. Why bother to get an education, he wonders, when the war is "slowly chipping away" at the peace of Devon, anyway, the peace he had known so well at the Summer Session? He realizes that there's no one to stop him from enlisting. He decides to go for it.
Gene bounces cheerily up the stairs to his room, and open the door to find…Phineas. And the end of Chapter Seven.