Angela falls ill and can think of little more than lemonade, which Frank fetches willingly. He can’t resist the opportunity when he sees the delivery van by the pub, and before he knows what he is doing has stolen two bottles and hidden them under his shirt. As Kathleen is having a conversation when Frank enters the grocery store, he simply takes some bread as well, promising to tell all in confession. He tells his brothers a much more adventurous version, and Michael starts worrying about his fate as an outlaw. Soon thereafter, Frank steals an entire delivery from outside a big house, then returns with his brothers in tow to knock on doors asking for coal and turf to keep the fire going. Maids threaten to call the police if they don’t go away, and back at home Guard Dennehy is there and tells Frank to summon Grandma and Aunt Aggie. The doctor is called and the boys stay with Aunt Aggie until Angela is well enough to leave the hospital. It’s awkward there, but after cleaning up and eating they tell Uncle Pa about their mother’s pneumonia and before long it’s time for morning mass. Despite the relative comfort in which she lives warm and dry, Aggie begrudges the boys even the bread they eat, and one day hits Malachy for asking for a piece. He doesn’t return from school the next day, and Michael announces soon thereafter that their father is back. Two days later Angela is home and Malachy is off again to Coventry. Frank and Malachy take turns caring for Alphie, and at one point Frank glimpses his mother begging for food outside the priests’ house and is more ashamed than ever. Malachy is smiling back at home, and tells Frank their mother brought home corned beef. Frank is disgusted because he knows where the food really comes from: begging. Angela saves the bit of meat for Alphie, who innocently shows what he thinks of it by throwing the precious morsel to Lucky the dog.
Frank and his brothers cannot resist opening the trunk full of treasures and papers from New York. Frank even cuts up his mother’s red dress to make red hearts for soccer uniforms. He also looks at his birth certificate and also notices that there were not a full nine months between his parents’ marriage and his own birth, and resolves to ask Mikey Molloy about the apparent miracle. He joins Mikey, who has just turned sixteen, for his first pint, but is terribly disappointed to be told he is not a miracle, but a bastard.
After the football game against more affluent boys, Bridey Hannon and her mother approach Angela to suggest Frank start helping John Hannon with his coal deliveries, since the older man’s legs are steadily worsening. Thus it is that at the tender age of eleven Frank starts working on the float. Although the dust hurts his eyes, he is overjoyed to help and proudly commands the horse after school Tuesdays and Thursdays as well as on Saturday mornings, to the envy of all his peers as well as older boys. However, Mr. Hannon’s legs continue to fester and soon thereafter Frank has to tell the boss that Mr. Hannon has to see a doctor and will be unable to come in that day. Mrs. Hannon tells Frank he’s been like a son to the man, and with his broken heart and sore eyes Frank cannot hold back the tears to lose not only his first job, but also the special somewhat fatherly friendship blossoming with the neighbor.
Malachy writes that he is coming home for Christmas, and Angela and the boys go to the railroad station to meet his train. The man who keeps the signal tower generously shares his supper with the hungry family, but although they wait until all passengers have disappeared, there is no sign of Malachy on the train. He appears the next day, a bit beaten up and without front teeth, and with only a box of half-eaten chocolates instead of the desperately needed money. After eating only the sheep’s eyes for Christmas dinner, he leaves once more for London and the rest of the family returns to the life of poverty to which they have become accustomed. Angela takes to bringing home women and children, and Michael invites stray dogs and old men home for awhile. One day while their mother is out, the boys are so cold and in need of firewood that they chop down the beams supporting the house. Before their very eyes, the ceiling completely crumbles. When the rent man comes and frantically asks about the missing second room, even their grandmother claims not to remember it. She suggests they stay with Laman Griffin, who begrudgingly takes them in and gives up his bed downstairs to sleep in the loft after work. Laman is a man of few words, but he allows Frank to use his library card to fetch him books. Grandma dies of pneumonia and Tom and his wife Galway Jane die of consumption. Malachy is accepted at the Army School of Music in Dublin and suddenly life has changed drastically for everyone.
Frank rises to the challenge of providing for his brother’s when Angela catches pneumonia, even if he has to resort to stealing to ensure they eat. Their wild lives are only slightly curbed by intervention from Guard Dennehy, who represents the law and properness of school attendance for growing boys. Clearly, they, too, have in some ways followed their father “beyond the beyonds,” and their waywardness is evident in the way they literally chop down their own home to stay alive. Such desperation is the result of lacking family supports, and the crumbling ceiling echoes the dilapidated relationships with Angela’s mother and siblings. Frank’s primary source of pride and strength is working with Mr. Hannon delivering coal, and he is devastated to lose the opportunity to earn a wage and to bring it home to provide for his family’s needs as his father could not. Malachy reappears only briefly and Frank allows himself some harsh words spoken aloud, criticizing his father drinking the money away in England just as he did at home.
Frank’s relationship with Mr. Hannon is a pleasant contrast from the complex one with his own father. He is thrilled to have the chance to both earn money and cultivate a filial bond with the kind and gentle older man. Mr. Hannon encourages him to keep at his studies and to continue reading, showing an attitude nearly opposite Frank’s own grandmother, who criticizes the foolishness of burying his head in books whose purpose eludes her. Such individual beliefs are shown to be the result of family and community attitudes. Frank begins to recognize patterns in his neighbors’ lives, witnessing first-hand the class system breeding more poverty for the poor and opportunities only for the rich.