Simon, DuPont, and Reverend Verringer remain in the library. Simon feels “unsettled, and unsure of his intellectual ground.” DuPont explains that what they have just witnessed may be an example of dédoublement or double consciousness, a phenomenon where a person displays two different personalities when awake and asleep; “the two halves,” DuPont says, “[have] no knowledge of each other.” Simon remains silent, while DuPont and the Reverend briefly debate the religious implications of such a phenomenon, with Verringer declaring “We cannot be mere patchworks!”
This passage highlights how difficult it is to establish objective, certain truth. It also contains important historical references to the question of the nature of the soul. Verringer’s horrified statement, “We cannot be mere patchworks!” is striking because it echoes the imagery of quilts that recurs throughout the novel, thus associating a fundamental quality of the soul (“patchwork-ness”) with womanhood.
Simon walks home alone, feeling completely panicked. He realizes: “There’s no way he can write the report Verringer desires without perjuring himself. The safest thing [for his reputation as a physician] would be to write nothing at all, but Verringer will hardly let him off the hook so easily.” Frustrated, he turns his thoughts to Rachel—“something he can grapple with, take hold of.” He looks forward to having violent sex with her, including hitting her and making her cry.
Simon’s frustration with Grace and her tendency to “slip through his fingers” indicates how desperately he wants to exert power over her, and how flummoxed he is by the fact that the power dynamic between the two of them has shifted. The fact that part of his attraction to Rachel is that he can grapple with and take hold of her shows that he physically wants to possess and manipulate women’s bodies—a disturbing quality (needless to say) in a physician. At this point in the novel, it is also difficult to ascertain whether Simon’s claim that physical violence during sex is something for which Rachel has actually “begged.”
When he enters the house, he finds Rachel waiting for him, crying. She tells Simon she’s had a letter from her husband, Major Humphrey; he will be returning to Rachel the day after tomorrow. Rachel is panicked and tries to convince Simon to kill the Major and “bury him in the garden.” Simon is bewildered and “puts his mouth on hers, to silence her.” Rachel interprets this as consent to her plan and kisses him enthusiastically. They have sex.
Simon’s instinct to “silence” Rachel shows for the umpteenth time that he is not interested in her human suffering; rather, he sees her only as a sexual object.
Afterwards, Simon lies in bed and thinks about what would happen if he were to follow Rachel’s plan. He imagines them escaping to the United States, where he will “never be free of Rachel”—yet he comforts himself that she will also become “an unknown woman, of the kind found floating in canals and other bodies of water.” Simon then thinks, “Who would suspect him?” He hopes that Rachel will have forgotten about her plan in the morning. The next day Simon convinces Rachel that he is sick and needs her to go to the Governor’s wife and request from her the name of a doctor who can treat him. Once Rachel is gone, Simon writes her a letter, explaining that he must return home to his sick mother. He also leaves some money. He leaves on the train, trying to decide what he will do next. On the train he also thinks about Grace “waiting for his footfall at the door.” He falls asleep and dreams of Grace; when he awakens he presses his mouth against the train window.
Simon’s sinister fantasy about the aftermath of Rachel’s plan shows that he could see himself killing Rachel (ostensibly because she would, at that point, be the only witness to his murder of Major Humphrey, but also just so Simon could be “free” of her). Perhaps this accounts for why Simon leaves in such a panic: he has finally recognized his capacity for violence toward women (which has been obvious throughout the preceding chapters) and is so horrified by it that he feels the need to remove himself from temptation. If this is true, then Simon is in some ways mirroring James McDermott, who blamed Nancy for her own death and for that of Mr. Kinnear. The fact that Simon feels he must leave Kingston to avoid killing Rachel (and, first, her husband) implies that Rachel is somehow “asking” to be killed in the same way Nancy was—by being, in McDermott’s word, “a slut.”