Arthur Morel (remember him? we know we haven't heard much about the guy in a while) gets a job at an electrical plant. He doesn't drink or gamble, but always finds a way to get into fights.
Paul complains about Arthur never coming home. Paul is clearly growing more irritable with age. The shining spirit of his childhood is leaving him, and this bothers Mrs. Morel.
She's always looking for something to worry about when it comes to her sons.
They soon receive a letter from Arthur saying that he got fed up with one of his coworkers and enlisted in the army on a whim. He's a little bit impulsive, you might say.
He also took money from the army for enlisting, which basically means they own him for the next few years.
With Arthur gone, Paul spends more time at home.
But one day, Paul meets Miriam walking with another girl (a blonde, dun dun dun…) at a place called Castle Gate. The woman's name is Clara Dawes, and she shows little interest in Paul.
Paul asks who she is, and you can already see a spark of romantic interest in him.
We find out that Clara is separated from her husband, Baxter. And that she has taken up the cause of women's rights since the separation. You go, girl.
The next time Paul visits Miriam, she's alone at her home. She starts asking him about Clara, trying to figure out if he finds Clara attractive. But Paul won't take the bait.
Miriam asks him specifically what he likes about Clara. He says he appreciates her form, at least through an artist's eye. He starts to get irritated by Miriam's brooding, and wonders if Miriam likes Clara because Clara has something against men.
He suddenly accuses Miriam of making him feel too spiritual. He wishes he could kiss her on a totally spiritual level.
When Paul goes into the barn, he finds his bicycle's front wheel punctured. He starts working on the wheel, and Miriam brings him a light. At this moment, she suddenly wants to run her hands over him.
He straightens up with his back to her. She runs her hands down his sides and says he's very fine. He laughs, but his blood rises to a flame at her touch.
Finally, some touching.
Miriam tests the bike's brakes and knows they're broken. She tells Paul he should fix them, but he waves her off.
He rides home very quickly on a dangerous road, as if recklessness were some sort of revenge he was taking on her.
Then the book gives a description of how the Leivers share the Morels' pew at church. Paul adores sitting between his two great loves, Miriam and his mother.
This love triangle is starting to get a little old, isn't?
Paul eventually demands to know why his mother doesn't like Miriam. Mrs. Morel replies that she doesn't know, but that she's tried and tried to like the girl.
Paul feels the same way as her when he's with Miriam. He feels like she doesn't want them to be two people, but wants them to unite into one. He and Miriam almost broach the topic one day, the topic of their love, but Paul retreats into superficial conversation instead.
Briefly, we get a comedic scene to remind us that Walter Morel is still alive. He comes out of his washtub looking for a towel, and Mrs. Morel calls him chubby, even though she knows he's still got a young man's hard body.
Paul hangs out with Miriam and co. some more.
Mrs. Morel chides Paul for being too obsessed with Miriam some more.
Paul tells his mother that he doesn't love Miriam, but there are certain things he can only talk about with her.
Like what? his mother wants to know.
He tells his moms that she and Miriam are interested in different things because she (his mother) is old. He immediately regrets saying this, and suddenly realizes that he is everything to his mother, and that she is a supreme being for him.
He assures his mother that he'll never love Miriam as much as her.
As he bends to kiss her, she throws her arms around his neck and buries her face in his shoulder, crying.
Mrs. Morel says something about how she's never had a husband, not really. Which sort of implies that she wishes Paul were her husband. Weird.
Paul strokes her hair and presses his mouth to her throat (still weird). His mother talks about how Miriam exults in taking him away from her.
As they part, Walter stumbles in and they all get into a bad fight.
Mrs. Morel, ever the delicate flower, faints.
Paul helps his mother to bed, and tells her not to sleep with Walter. But she insists. Paul goes to bed and realizes that he still loves his mother more than anyone.