Chapter 3 returns to Florens’s perspective. She begins by describing how long it has been since the Blacksmith has gone—two seasons, plus part of a winter. In the winter, a disease shows up, similar to one that Sorrow had previously. This time, the disease strikes Jacob. He becomes moody and develops blisters, vomiting at night. He begins to grow weak. Jacob chose his servants in the first place because they had all already had measles, meaning they would not catch it and give it to Jacob, so no one can understand why Jacob is getting sick now.
In this chapter, Morrison returns the perspective to Florens’s first person narrative. Although every other chapter focuses on a character other than Florens, Morrison’s choice to give Florens a first person narrative voice throughout centers her story and her experience of slavery. Florens continues to frame her narrative as an address to the Blacksmith.
Jacob feels he is being cheated out of the beautiful, big new house he is building. Florens goes on to say that the house is spectacular to look at, even though it is not yet finished. She looks through the fence the Blacksmith made to see it. At the top of the iron gate, there are two figures of snakes.
In Florens’s narrative the reader sees that, as Jacob indicated he would in his chapter, Jacob has built a house with his profits from the slave trade in Barbados. The fence gains significance later in the novel as a symbol of sin.
Jacob wants Rebekka to take him to the new house, in spite of the fact that there is no furniture there and that it’s raining. The women of the Vaark household carry Jacob on a blanket into the house while he is asleep. He never wakes up again.
Jacob’s dying wish, to die in the enormous new house he built, is fulfilled. This is bitter because Jacob dies before his dream is realized, and the emptiness of the house in the face of death shows the hollowness of this “legacy” he is leaving behind.
Two male servants who occasionally work for the Vaarks, Will and Scully, dig Jacob’s grave, even though their master, a neighbor of the Vaarks, has warned them to stay away. None of the churchgoing people come either, afraid of contracting the pox that killed Jacob. The women bury Jacob. During the burial, Rebekka notices two pockmarks in her own mouth. She finds even more the next day. Now Rebekka wants the Blacksmith to come back to save her life.
When Florens notes that Will and Scully came to dig Jacob’s grave against their orders, she hints at their loving relationship with the Vaark family, which is later fully explored. As Florens describes Jacob’s burial and Rebekka’s contraction of small pox, it becomes slightly clearer that Florens has been sent to find the Blacksmith and bring him to heal Rebekka.
Florens thinks again of her intimacy with the Blacksmith, describing what it’s like to touch him. She discusses the first time she saw his back, when he was doing metalwork. She thought about watching water run down his back and wanting to lick it off. The thought embarrassed her at the time, and she ran into the cowshed to distract herself. Florens imagines watching his body as he worked metal, and her own body’s reaction at the sight of it.
Florens clearly harbors intense feelings of love and lust for the Blacksmith, and her descriptions of touching him make it clear that they have had a sexual relationship. Florens’s loving attention to and worship of the Blacksmith’s body is radical in a novel where bodies, especially black bodies, are exploited for profit.
Florens describes one time she took a candle at night to watch the Blacksmith sleep. She watched him for too long and the candle burned her hand. She promptly ran away, but made eye contact with the now-awake Blacksmith as she fled.
Once again, as Florens describes her early relationship with the Blacksmith, her utter infatuation and obsession with him becomes clear.
Next, Florens comes back to Lina and herself waiting in the village together for the Ney brothers’ wagon to pick Florens up, so she can begin her journey to go find the Blacksmith. As a boy drives past, he raises his hat to Florens. She is pleased. Florens grows hungry, so she eats the bread and cod that he brought with her. Lina seems to be in a bad mood.
Florens’s pleasure at the attention from one of the boys who drives past her shows how Florens, having not yet had her heart broken (or experienced sexual violence, as have most of the other female characters), is still excited by the attention of men. Morrison later explores how she changes to become more wary of sexual attention.
Finally the Ney brothers’ wagon stops to take Florens to her next destination. The driver helps Florens up into the wagon and his touch makes her feel shameful. There are seven people total in the wagon. It is snowing and Florens is nervous. Florens thinks that the snow will make the men happy, because animals are easier to track in the snow. However, Florens thinks the snow will not last
Again, Florens is paying close attention to her newfound identity as a woman who can attract the attention of men. In this moment, Florens feels shame at the man’s touch. This contrasts with Florens’s pleasure when the boy tips his hat, showing her ambivalence toward male attention.
Florens recites her route, which Rebekka made her memorize. After getting off the wagon, she is supposed to walk up an Abenaki trail. However, since the wagon arrived late, Florens is off her schedule.
That Florens is supposed to walk up an Abenaki trail to find the Blacksmith emphasizes the role native people played in establishing early roads.
The other people in the wagon talk about their time on a ship from Europe and how they believe they have almost finished their years of indentured servitude, but their master thinks otherwise. They are being sent away to work at a tannery. Florens does not understand why they are upset about having to continue their service, saying “everyone has to work.” The other people in the wagon call her crazy and young, but then the driver tells them to quiet down.
The conversation between Florens’s wagon mates shows the potential problems of indentured servitude: although supposedly on a limited contract, many workers were pressed into service for much longer than they were supposed to be. When Florens does not understand their displeasure, she comes across as naïve, but it also emphasizes the difference in slavery and indentured servitude—born a slave, Florence tragically cannot even conceive of a life free of forced labor.
When they reach the tavern, it is so dark that at first Florens doesn’t see it. The Ney brothers go in the tavern. Florens hears scuffling sounds and sees that the indentured servants in the wagon are jumping out. Florens jumps out too. As the indentured servants run off into the trees, Florens is unsure of whether to go with them or to wait for the Ney brothers, who will undoubtedly be angry to find their cargo gone. Florens goes into the trees, feeling pulled toward the Blacksmith. She mentions the reason for her errand: the Blacksmith can heal Rebekka’s illness, so Florens has to bring him back to the farm.
Florens’s understanding of her fellow wagon mates as the “cargo” of the Ney brothers shows how she has internalized ways of thinking about people that reduce them to objects and sources of profit, rather than humans (since she herself has been reduced to an object). Again, Florens reiterates her compulsion to find the Blacksmith. This desire and love for him manifests itself as a physical feeling of being pulled towards him.
Florens walks through the trees along the road to the north. In the dark, though, she loses the road. She picks up snow to eat since she has no water. Suddenly, she smells wet fur and feels that there is an animal nearby. Then the odor disappears. Florens climbs a tree for safety. Once up in the branches, she knows she will not sleep because she is so afraid.
In contrast to Jacob’s enjoyment of the American landscape, Florens’s experience in the woods shows how, to someone without the means to rent a horse and a tavern room, the American wilderness can be threatening rather than exciting.