The next day Dr. Jordan brings Grace a radish he bought at market. He tells Grace he has begun digging a kitchen garden; Grace says, “Now that is a thing I envy.” As a “return gift” for the radish, Grace resumes her story with the goal of making it “as interesting as [she] can, and rich in incident.”
The fact that Grace covets a garden of her own shows the important role that ownership plays in a person’s sense of individuality and personhood. This moment is also important because Grace makes Dr. Jordan a gift of her storytelling. Not only does this reveal yet another aspect of how storytelling functions between people, but it also raises the question of whether Grace is going to/has been manipulating her story to make it interesting, rather than accurate. In itself, this brings up the question of which act would be the “right” one on Grace’s part: telling Dr. Jordan the “truth,” or telling him what he so desperately wants to hear.
Grace picks up with the night she and Nancy went to bed together because Mr. Kinnear was on business in Toronto. She says that as Nancy was turning off the light “she sighed, and it was not the sigh of a happy woman, but of one who is trying to make the best of things.” Mr. Kinnear returns on Saturday; he has met with two acquaintances on the way home and invited them to dinner. A flustered Nancy asks Grace to find McDermott and tell him to kill a chicken. Grace cannot find McDermott, and when she returns to Nancy, Nancy orders her to kill the chicken herself. Grace begins to cry, and Nancy shakes and slaps her and pushes her out into the yard. There, Jamie Walsh offers to kill the chicken and Grace gratefully accepts. Nancy comes out and teases Grace about Jamie’s crush, and Grace realizes “she [is] trying to be friends again, after having lost her temper.”
This is a complicated moment. Grace’s absolute panic at the prospect of having to kill the chicken makes it seem unlikely that she could have ever brought herself to kill Nancy. Yet it is once again possible that Grace is manipulating the details of her story—or, that Grace didn’t mind strangling Nancy because it did not involve blood (to which Grace will consistently express an aversion). On a plot level, it is important that Jamie kills the chicken for Grace, because it strengthens the friendship between the two of them. On a thematic level, Nancy’s violence toward Grace—which is itself a reaction to Grace’s reluctance to commit violence against the chicken—suggests that violence can arise from frustration rather than malice. Depending upon the reader’s interpretation, this might have implications for the question of whether Grace actually strangled Nancy.
Mr. Kinnear’s friends arrive for dinner, and Nancy has Grace wait table. Mr. Kinnear’s friends crudely tease Grace about her attractiveness, telling her she should “look to [her] fine blue eyes, or Nancy might scratch them out, if old Tom so much as wink[s] at [her] sideways.” Grace hopes Nancy has not overheard.
Besides showing yet again that Grace is sexually harassed by men of every class status and profession, this moment is important because of what it says about Grace’s relationship with Nancy. There are several ways to interpret Grace’s hope that Nancy has not overheard the dinner conversation. Grace could be enjoying the gentlemen’s implication that Mr. Kinnear is attracted to her. Or, she could resent it and wish only that Nancy hasn’t heard so that she won’t punish Grace for attention she doesn’t want.
On Sunday, Nancy asks Grace to accompany her to church, lending her a dress, bonnet, and gloves. Grace notices that no one greets Nancy and that people seem to be whispering when she passes. Grace deems the people hypocrites and bad neighbors.
Grace’s experience at church speaks to her sense of Christian ethics. She looks down on the other church goers, deriding them for only caring about God’s opinion when they’re dressed up for the service, rather than practicing compassion for others in their daily lives. Grace’s opinion of the congregation’s treatment of Nancy will reverse when she learns about Nancy’s affair with Mr. Kinnear.
Later in the week McDermott tells Grace that Nancy has given him his one month’s notice. He claims he “[does] not care to stay any longer with such a parcel of whores.” Shocked, Grace asks for clarification. McDermott tells Grace that Mr. Kinnear and Nancy are sleeping together and that they “[live] in secret as man and wife.” He also says that it is “common knowledge” that when she worked at a different house, Nancy became pregnant “by a young layabout who ran off and left her”; the baby died. He adds that “a woman once on her back [is] like a turtle in the same right, she [can] scarcely turn herself right side up again, and [is] fair game for all.” Grace realizes the “meaning of the averted heads at church” and resolves to go “about the house like a spy.” She feels ashamed for letting herself be “imposed upon in this fashion, and for being so blind and foolish.”
Grace is so shocked at learning of Nancy and Mr. Kinnear’s affair that she hardly seems to notice McDermott’s misogynistic and dehumanizing comments about Nancy. It seems that Grace might actually agree with McDermott’s characterization of Nancy as a whore, though it is difficult to say for sure. Grace certainly resents being made a fool of—she thinks that her kindness towards Nancy has been misplaced, because Nancy does not deserve her respect. Thus Grace’s reaction to this news is complicated, since Nancy’s story almost directly parallels Mary Whitney’s. Perhaps Grace’s sense of horror at the impropriety of Nancy’s affair comes from the fact that Nancy is not only having sex with a gentleman, as Mary did, but that she is assuming the privileges of his wife, by wearing fancy clothes, and dining and sleeping with Mr. Kinnear as if they were actually married. It seems, then, that Grace’s resentment toward Nancy is rooted in her feeling that Nancy has violated class norms.