Every afternoon, Etienne makes a radio broadcast, and every evening, Marie-Laure reads to Etienne from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. One day, on her way home from the bakery, Marie-Laure walks to the grotto where Harold Bazin took her years ago. There, she finds barnacles and snails on the walls, just as she remembers.
Bazin’s grotto has become Marie-Laure’s own space—a refuge and symbol of her desire for peace, solitude, and contentment (especially the snails in the grotto, which she feels a special bond with). We sense that the grotto won’t stay empty for long, however—von Rumpel is now in town.
Suddenly, Marie-Laure hears a voice, asking, “What’s in your sack there?” Marie-Laure can tell that the speaker is German, even though he’s speaking French. Marie-Laure feels herself getting nervous—she’s still carrying the loaf of bread with the codes inside of it. Marie-Laure lies quickly, and tells the man that she goes to collect snails and shells in this grotto. The man says that Marie-Laure has clearly not collected any snails—she’s lying. The man asks Marie-Laure to answer some questions about her father Daniel, and he tells her that Daniel is in prison 500 kilometers away. Marie-Laure’s heart sinks. She says, half to herself, half to her father, “I should never have gone outside.”
At first, it seems that the man following Marie-Laure to the grotto is Werner—but it quickly becomes clear that it’s actually von Rumpel, who’s tracked the diamond all the way to Saint-Malo. Marie-Laure’s words are disheartening, as she feels like everything she’s done, even helping the French Resistance, has been in vain—her father is still in prison, and the Germans still have all the power. She almost seems to take on Etienne’s worldview at this point—the outside world is chaotic and full of dangers, so it’s better to stay where it’s safe and familiar (like a snail in its shell).
The man tells Marie-Laure that he wants to ask her one question—then he’ll leave. As the man talks, Marie-Laure remembers her nickname: the Whelk. She is armored, she thinks—impervious.
A whelk is a strong, impervious animal, and for much of Marie-Laure’s life, she’s aspired to be likewise strong and impervious. By training herself to read and move around the city, she’s become basically self-sufficient. and even able to have a large impact on others. Now Marie-Laure finds courage in this image of the whelk, and draws upon hidden reserves of strength that allow her to stand her ground against von Rumpel.