Grace begins to have arguments with Nancy. “But,” she says, “I so far remembered my place as not to strike her back; and if I’d held my tongue, my ears would have rung less often.” McDermott becomes “more brooding and vengeful” and tells Grace that the two of them should “join together and demand [their] rights.” Grace tells Dr. Jordan that “the best thing at such times was just to nod and agree with him, and to take no further notice.”
At the same time that Grace is repulsed by McDermott, she is unable to fully shake a sense of loyalty to him, rooted in the fact that they are of the same class. Whereas Grace had earlier felt close to Nancy because of their shared dislike of McDermott, Grace now seems more inclined to feel close to McDermott because of their shared dislike of Nancy. This raises the question of whether Grace is more fundamentally invested in her class identity or her gender identity. The fact that she must choose shows how deeply divided her society is, along multiple, intersecting lines.
Dr. Jordan interjects to say that in McDermott’s confession, he stated that it was Grace who wanted to murder Nancy and Mr. Kinnear, by poisoning their food. Grace replies, “Just because a thing has been written down, Sir, does not mean it is God’s truth.” Dr. Jordan laughs and asks Grace what she thinks of McDermott’s claim. Grace “allow[s] [herself] to smile,” and says, “If I wanted to put poison into a bowl of porridge, Sir, why would I have needed any help from such as him?” Dr. Jordan asks why McDermott might have said such a thing, and Grace responds that he likely wanted her company on the “lonely highway” to death. “I would never blame a human creature,” she says, “for feeling lonely.”
Again, Grace’s compassion shines through in her assessment of McDermott’s loneliness. This passage is also noteworthy because Grace explicitly acknowledges the fact that she “allows” herself to smile. This is a curious detail, because it indicates that there is a highly performative aspect to Grace’s interviews with Dr. Jordan. Finally, Grace’s comment about the porridge not only represents a radical assertion of her own power, but also reveals her dark sense of humor, which is at once captivating and slightly horrifying.
In the narrative of Grace’s past, the next Wednesday is Grace’s sixteenth birthday. Nancy tells Grace she can have her afternoon free; Grace suspects this is because Nancy wants to be alone with Mr. Kinnear for the day. As Grace is leaving to go on an afternoon walk, McDermott insists on accompanying her, “birthday be damned.” Grace refuses his advances and flees the kitchen.
The fact that Grace is barely sixteen and having to fend off advances from McDermott, who is several years her senior, drives home the harshness of her world. Nancy giving Grace her afternoon off shows how regimented Grace’s life as a servant is, and how much of a gift it is for her to have her time to herself.
Grace walks to the orchard, feeling very lonely. Listening to the birdsong, she reflects “that the very birds were strangers to [her], for [she] did not even know their names,” and she begins to cry. She tries to console herself with the beauty of her surroundings and her belief in “a benevolent God,” but she admits to Dr. Jordan that “thoughts about God often make [her] drowsy” and that she had proceeded to fall asleep in the orchard.
In this poignant passage, Grace explicitly wrestles with her religious beliefs. The fact that she is unable to take pleasure in the beautiful day also suggests how deeply depressed she is, and serves as a reminder of how friendless her life has been since Mary Whitney’s death.
Grace awakens because she feels she is being watched. She sees a man standing near her and screams, but then realizes the man is actually young Jamie Walsh. Jamie asks why Grace is sad, and she replies that she is without friends. Jamie assures Grace that he is her friend, and tells her that he hopes to marry her someday. Grace is amused, given that Jamie is younger than she, but she responds gently. Jamie offers to play for Grace on his flute and the two then make daisy chains together. When she returns to the house, Grace finds Mr. Kinnear on the verandah; he asks whom Grace was with in the orchard. Later, McDermott also accuses Grace of “rolling about in the grass, and kissing the errand boy.” Grace feels sad and angry at the thought that “[her] afternoon had not been [hers] at all, and not a kind and private thing, but had been spied upon by every one of them.”
In narrating this scene, Grace herself marks how strange it is “that a girl of fifteen or sixteen is accounted a woman, but a boy of fifteen or sixteen is still a boy.” This moment speaks to the fact that, at the same time that Grace’s society denies female sexuality, it also sexualizes girls at an extremely young age. Note also the anger Grace feels at having been spied on by all three men at the Kinnear household: Jamie, Mr. Kinnear, and McDermott. This is a reminder that men in Grace’s society feel entitled to every aspect of women’s existence, from their bodies to how and with whom they spend their free time. Grace’s sense of violation and indignation that her afternoon was not allowed to be “a kind and private thing” further highlights how important it is for women to be allowed ownership of their experiences.