Grace rises at dawn her first morning at Mr. Kinnear’s house. She uses the privy, and prepares the breakfast things in the kitchen. She then sneaks some carrots to the horses and milks the cow. From the barn, she hears the loud noise of “McDermott, step-dancing on the bare boards of the loft,” which she finds very odd. Grace continues her morning duties and has a brief conversation with McDermott when he is washing his face in the yard; their exchange leads her to determine that “keep[ing] a cordial distance [from McDermott] would be best.”
This passage introduces Grace’s love for animals, which not only heightens the notion that she might have a sort of “sixth sense,” but also poignantly underscores how desperate she is for a sense of connection. As Grace finally begins to describe her time at Mr. Kinnear’s house, the question of whether Grace is actually recalling and representing events accurately becomes even more important.
Nancy comes down to the kitchen while Grace is making tea. When Grace prepares to take Mr. Kinnear’s tea upstairs, Nancy insists that she will take it. Grace, surprised, retorts that it is “a job for the maids,” not the housekeeper, and a displeased Nancy allows her to proceed upstairs.
This is the first indication that Nancy and Grace will butt heads eventually. Grace’s retort is more surprised than defiant, as she genuinely does not understand why Nancy would want to perform a task that is below her position. This re-emphasizes how important class standing is to Grace, while at the same time highlighting her naïveté regarding Nancy’s relationship with Mr. Kinnear.
Later that day Grace and Nancy have their “first falling out” while Grace is “doing up Mr. Kinnear’s room.” Grace explains to Dr. Jordan that it is difficult for “a woman who has once been a servant herself” to work as a housekeeper, because “servants will have their own ways of doing things.” To distract Nancy from her “fidgeting,” Grace asks her about a picture on Mr. Kinnear’s wall of a woman bathing in a garden. Mr. Kinnear comes in as the women are arguing over whether the painting depicts a scene from the Bible. Mr. Kinnear explains that the painting is of Susannah, whose story is recorded in the Apocrypha, a compilation of stories from Biblical times; this validates Grace’s assertion that Susannah’s story was not in the Bible. Mr. Kinnear’s praise of Grace’s intelligence angers Nancy.
Grace’s narration of her first argument with Nancy suggests that there are two kinds of tension between the women. Grace characterizes the first as a natural tension that stems from the fact that Nancy herself used to be a servant. The second tension comes from Nancy’s proprietary sense of her relationship to Mr. Kinnear, and her jealousy of his praise of Grace. Grace is not explicit about how Mr. Kinnear’s praise made her feel, although she seems to have enjoyed sparring with him about the meaning of the Susannah story. More importantly, Grace claims that Mr. Kinnear’s comment to Nancy that Grace is “no simpleton” is evidence that Nancy has been belittling Grace’s intelligence. This definitively angers Grace, and seems to deepen her sense that Nancy is acting out of turn by thinking herself so superior.
Mr. Kinnear then tells the women he noticed a shirt of his was missing a button, and Grace notes that “Nancy had been in the wrong twice, for that shirt must have been washed and ironed by her, before I was ever anywhere near.” Grace tells Dr. Jordan that when Nancy had hired her she’d hoped they’d be “like sisters or at least good friends,” and she realized by the end of her first day “that this was not the way things were going to be.”
This addition to Grace’s story begins to raise the question of whether Grace is manipulating her account of Nancy. Grace seems to be casting Nancy as the villain, blaming her for the fact that the two women were not “like sisters.” In turn, the question of the reliability of Grace’s narration raises questions about the nature of female friendship, and whether women are “prone” to jealousy. Grace seems to have no problem depicting Nancy as jealous, while absolving herself of this feeling; yet she also seems to deeply regret the antipathy between herself and Nancy. For the first of many times, the question of how Grace truly felt and feels about Nancy Montgomery is at the forefront of the novel.