Grace tells Dr. Jordan that “Nancy was very changeable, two-faced you might call her, and it wasn’t easy to tell what she wanted from one hour to the next.” On her second day at Mr. Kinnear’s house Grace does the wash, spending considerable effort on getting snuff, ink, and grass stains out of one of Nancy’s petticoats. While she is admiring her work, Jamie Walsh comes around the corner; he tells Grace he’ll be running errands in town and asks if she needs anything, to which she replies in the negative. Nancy invites Jamie to return later in the day to play his flute for them.
This passage again highlights Grace’s naïveté; the reader is able to intuit that Nancy’s skirt is stained with snuff, ink, and grass because she had sex somewhere with Mr. Kinnear. The young Grace, however, is unable to see this—perhaps because of her age, perhaps because of her strong sense of class divisions, and perhaps because, at the time, Grace did not know the whole story, as the reader already does from having learned the facts of the murders early on in the novel.
While Nancy takes her meal in the dining room with Mr. Kinnear, Grace has to “make do with McDermott.” She “set[s] to work to draw him out,” and he soon shares his life story. McDermott was also born in Ireland, and served in the army in both England and in Canada after he immigrated. When he was hired by Nancy, McDermott expected he’d be serving as a personal servant to Mr. Kinnear, as he had done for a captain in the army, “but was annoyed to find that a woman was set over him instead.” Grace believes McDermott’s story, but later realizes, based on the details he provided, that he must have lied to her about his age.
McDermott’s life story is important because it functions as a story within a story. Thus, it raises the question of whether Grace is telling the truth about McDermott having lied about his age. There are multiple levels at which the reader could question the veracity of this passage. On the one hand, Grace might be deliberately depicting McDermott as sullen and a liar to bias Dr. Jordan in her favor. On the other hand, McDermott could actually have been a bitter, misogynistic braggart.
McDermott starts to “make sheep’s eyes” at Grace, asking questions about her romantic life and making suggestive comments. When Grace tells him “that what sort of girl [she] might be” is none of his business, McDermott sulkily leaves to chop wood. Grace carries on with her work, and while she is outside churning butter and doing some mending, Mr. Kinnear passes by and makes some flirtatious comments. Nancy later comes out and tells Grace that Mr. Kinnear is on his way to Toronto on business. First he will stop to dine at a friend’s house, “whose wife is away from home, and the two daughters as well, so he can visit safely, but when she is there he is not received.” Grace is surprised and questions Nancy, who responds only by saying that some people consider Mr. Kinnear “a bad influence.”
Yet again, Grace is subject to harassing comments about her personal (sexual) life at the hands of not only her fellow servant but also her employer. While narrating, Grace seems to be more annoyed with McDermott’s liberties than with Mr. Kinnear’s, which suggests that she thinks Mr. Kinnear entitled to certain “privileges” with his female servants. Or, perhaps Grace welcomed Mr. Kinnear’s flirtation because she was actually attracted to him. Another important aspect of this passage is Nancy’s revelation that Mr. Kinnear is an outcast from respectable society. Though this confuses Grace in the moment, she will not hesitate to express her opinions on Mr. Kinnear and Nancy’s relationship later on, after she has realized the extent of it.
Nancy helps Grace with the butter and they discuss Mr. Kinnear’s tense relationship with his half brother, who still lives in their native Scotland. While the women are working, McDermott begins “running along the top of the snake fence, agile as a squirrel.” Nancy tells Grace that he is just showing off, but Grace is still secretly impressed. Later, Jamie Walsh comes by with his flute and the women sit and listen to him play. Eventually McDermott comes to listen as well, and Grace tells Dr. Jordan, “the evening was so beautiful, that it made a pain in my heart” and that she wished that the moment could last forever.
Grace’s memory of this night as so beautiful that it caused her pain seems likely to be a result of hindsight—yet it also seems plausible that because Grace’s life until this point was so full of loss, she was not able to fully experience happiness, even before the murders changed her life forever. This is thus a detail that contributes to making Grace a character worthy of the reader’s compassion, in addition to skepticism.
Night falls and everyone prepares for bed. Nancy asks Grace to sleep with her because she is afraid of sleeping alone when Mr. Kinnear is not at home. Grace asks if Nancy is afraid of McDermott, and Nancy replies that “from what she could make out from the look in his eyes” Grace should be more afraid of him than she. Grace responds that she is “more afraid of the old rooster in the henyard” than McDermott, and she and Nancy go upstairs to bed “in a very companionable fashion.”
This is a rare moment that Nancy and Grace demonstrate solidarity, united by their shared dislike of McDermott. This moment is also important because of Nancy’s assertion that McDermott’s “look”—presumably one of infatuation—means Grace should be scared of him. This explicitly indicates that men are a danger to women, even (or perhaps especially) when they are in love with them.