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Gene notices how much like a museum the school looks, how lifeless and polished; but the place brings back even keener memories for this preserved quality of appearance. It is a rainy, cold November day as he inspects the school grounds, and revisits the cold, hard marble stairs in the First Academy Building, which seem to hold some kind of memory for Gene; he also trudges over the muddy playing fields, to the river, and a tree that he and Phineas used to jump off of, bravely. He notices, when he sees the tree, how vast the difference is between youthful memory and adult perception. The boys believed that jumping from the tree was a dangerous, daring feat. In reality, nothing looks as big as it did in his memory.
Gene also dwells on the sight of the old marble steps in the First Academy Building, and seeks them out especially, as if they have some great significance in his life. He realizes how hard the marble is, and notes how "surprising [it is] that [he] had overlooked that, that crucial fact" (p. 3). At this point in the novel, he does not say what meaning these steps have; but that he remarks on their qualities, especially the hardness, foreshadows their significance in future events.