Simon meets with Grace to continue hearing her narration; her story has “come at last to the murders.” Simon tells Grace that he is “a doctor, not a judge,” and only wants to hear what Grace can remember of that day. Simon “plunges in,” asking Grace to confirm that Mr. Kinnear left for town on a Thursday. Grace assents, saying that when Mr. Kinnear left he told her, “Here’s your favorite beau, Grace, come and kiss him goodbye.” Simon asks if Mr. Kinnear was referring to McDermott, and Grace icily corrects him, saying Mr. Kinnear was referring to Charley Horse. Simon then asks Grace several questions about whether Mr. Kinnear ever made sexual advances to her; Grace is offended and says, “You are just like them at the Asylum, and the prison chaplains, and Dr. Bannerling and his filthy ideas!” Simon backs off, and instead asks Grace to explain what happened after Mr. Kinnear left that Thursday.
Grace takes offense at the fact that Simon is so interested in knowing the details of her relationship to Mr. Kinnear. On the one hand, it seems completely reasonable that Grace would be offended by Simon’s line of questioning; her whole life, she has been treated by men as a sexual object, and she has already been subject to years of speculation regarding her relationship with McDermott. On the other hand, because this chapter is narrated in close third-person to Simon, it is difficult to know exactly why Grace is so repulsed by the suggestion that she had a sexual relationship with Mr. Kinnear. Though the reader might be just as tempted as Simon to know the answers to his questions, Grace’s passionate declaration that the men who are so interested in her are actually interested in their own sexual fantasies is nevertheless deserving of the reader’s compassion.
Grace says that Nancy informed both her and McDermott that they were to leave in two days’ time; she then left to go to a friend’s house. Grace was distraught and took a few glasses of whiskey with McDermott, during which time he told her that he intended to “kill Nancy with the axe, and strangle her as well, and shoot Mr. Kinnear when he came back.” He insisted that Grace help him, and Grace tells Simon, “If I were not so upset [about being let go] I would have laughed at him, but I did not.” She says she felt “afraid of him; and […] had a strong feeling as if it was fated, and it couldn’t be avoided, no matter what [she] did.” When Simon asks why Grace did not warn Nancy, she replies that McDermott could have easily denied her allegations by calling her “a silly hysterical girl”; she also says she was afraid that McDermott might kill her if she warned Nancy.
This passage is important because the reasons Grace gives for silently going along with McDermott’s plan and not warning Nancy of it are completely understandable given what the reader knows about Grace’s society. It seems entirely possible to think that McDermott could convince Nancy that Grace was lying and “hysterical,” and that McDermott might retaliate against Grace with violence. This passage thus highlights how difficult it is to judge Grace’s story, because of the complicated societal forces that confined her choices.
Grace says that Nancy returned from her friend’s house and dined with Grace and McDermott. Nancy and Grace then went to bed together, with Grace making sure to lock the door; when questioned by Simon, Grace explains, “[McDermott] wanted to kill Nancy while asleep. I said he should not do that, as he might hit me by mistake, but it was hard to convince him. He said he didn’t want her looking at him when he did it.” The next day, Friday, Grace claims “began right as rain.” Jamie Walsh came over to play the flute, and Nancy and Grace sang and drank whisky together, though McDermott remained in a “dark mood.”
The most striking aspect of this passage is the fact that, according to Grace, McDermott wanted to kill Nancy while she was sleeping because that way he would not have to worry about “her looking at him” while he murdered her. This suggests that McDermott might feel some level of shame about killing someone—yet, at the same time, the fact that he feels no qualms about killing Nancy while she is unconscious controverts this idea. Regardless, there is a powerfully sexual undertone to McDermott’s desire not to have Nancy look at him—as if he wants the murder to be dispassionate and divorced of intimacy.
That night, at Nancy’s suggestion, Grace and Nancy went to bed in Mr. Kinnear’s room. According to Grace, Nancy insisted that “Mr. Kinnear would not find it out, as it was us who made up the beds, not him; and even if he did discover it, he would not care, but would no doubt like the idea of two serving-maids in his bed at once.” Grace says that she “did warn Nancy, after all”; while Nancy was combing her hair, Grace told her, “McDermott wants to kill you,” but Nancy brushed it off as an empty threat. Grace tells Simon, “So then I knew there was nothing I could do, to save her.”
This passage is striking mostly because of what it says about Mr. Kinnear. Nancy’s claim that he would be aroused by the idea of her sleeping in his bed with Grace suggests that Mr. Kinnear is sexually excited by the idea of exerting sexual power over two women whom he already holds economic and social power over. Mr. Kinnear’s fantasy, articulated by Nancy, also fetishes lesbian relationships, which, if the reader interprets Grace as being a lesbian, could be seen as further evidence for Grace disliking Nancy. This passage is also important because it is difficult to know whether Grace is telling the truth in saying she warned Nancy of McDermott’s plot; it is left to the reader to determine whether Nancy brushing off such a warning seems plausible.
That night Grace had two dreams. In the first dream she was visited by Mary Whitney, who appeared at Mr. Kinnear’s bedside holding a firefly in a jar. The firefly escaped, and Grace realized it was Mary’s soul “trying to find its way out but the window was shut.” Grace awoke in tears. When she fell back asleep, she had a second dream, about “a place [she] had never been before, with high walls all around.” She relates the dream to Simon—it is the same passage that opened the novel, with Grace walking in the prison yard, seeing the red cloth flowers and Nancy bleeding and strangled. The dream ends the same way: with Grace in a cellar, a man blocking the stairs, and Grace knowing she “[will] never get out.”
Grace’s second dream is the same one with which the novel opened. The fact that Grace claims to have dreamed about Nancy’s murder and her own imprisonment before either of these events occurred imbues her with a kind of mystical power—if, that is, the reader believes that Grace actually dreamed this the night before Nancy was killed. Grace’s first dream, if the reader accepts that Mary Whitney has actually been possessing Grace’s body, is an indication that this possession is about to happen again. Regardless, the fact that Grace still feels guilty about Mary’s death speaks to how deeply Grace loved Mary, and how hard she is on herself.
Surprised, Simon asks Grace to confirm that she had this dream before the murders took place. Grace assents, adding that this is why she was “put away” in the Asylum—“because of the bad dreams.” Simon asks, “Only the dreams?” and Grace replies, “They said they were not dreams at all, Sir. They said I was awake. But I do not wish to say any more about it.”
Grace’s comment that she was actually awake is mysterious. It is not clear what Grace did when she had these recurring bad dreams while in prison and at the asylum. Though much of this passage is inexplicable, the fact that Grace is so tortured by not only the dreams themselves but also the way she has been treated because of the dreams underscores the fact that her society is not compassionate in its treatment of people, particularly women, whom it deems “insane.”