Rill wakes up confused about where she is and what’s happening. Once she opens her eyes and notices the high window and a bush outside of it, she remembers everything that’s happened. She and her siblings are in the basement. Rill remembers being relieved that the five of them were alone together, but now she feels sick as she remembers being taken from the boat and forced to take a bath in front of everyone. Rill thinks about her parents and realizes she’s responsible for protecting her little sisters and brother even though she doesn’t know how to protect herself. Fern has crawled into Rill’s cot in the night, so Rill curls herself around Fern and tries to stifle her sobs.
Rill has always been responsible, but now she has to grow up very quickly. Although she’s used to caring for her siblings, she’s also used to having her parents there to help her and comfort her. Part of protecting the kids means Rill can’t show her own fear or negative emotions because she knows doing so would make it harder to protect the little kids from the horror of their situation.
Rill dozes off until she notices a man in the room walking from one cot to the next. Rill pretends to be asleep until the man leaves. When she opens her eyes, she sees peppermints on everyone’s pillows. Rill carries Fern back to her own cot while Camellia pops up and begins crunching on her peppermints. Rill takes the rest of the peppermints and hides them in her dress pocket to pass out later. Camellia asks what they are going to do, and Rill tries to convince Camellia—and herself—that if they’re good and do as they’re told, then someone will bring them to Briny. Camellia theorizes that the man who gave them the peppermints might be able to bring them to Briny, but Rill is suspicious about why the man was in their room.
Rill keeps trying to convince herself that everything will be fine because that makes it easier for her to cope with her fear and anxiety about what’s actually happening. Furthermore, it’s simply inconceivable to her that kids can be taken away from their parents, so she maintains a childlike faith that her dad can and will save her from this situation.
A worker comes in and orders them all to get out of bed and fold their blankets. The worker leads them out of their room, past the man (whom the woman calls Mr. Riggs) who gave them the peppermints. Camellia smiles at him as the nurse, Mrs. Pulnik, marches the kids up the stairs. Mrs. Pulnik gives Rill and her siblings old clothes to wear and a small scoop of cornmeal mush for breakfast before leading them outside with strict orders not to go near the fence. Rill leads her sisters and brothers through the yard. She spots Stevie, but not his sister Sherry. Rill tells Stevie he can stay with her and he gratefully reaches out for her.
The disappearance of Sherry is the first example of siblings being forcibly split up that Rill encounters in the orphanage, and it foreshadows what will happen with her and her siblings. The fact that siblings are being split up highlights how cruel Miss Tann can be and how little she cares about the emotional trauma she causes the children in the homes.
A group of older boys tries to stop Rill and the younger kids from passing. Camellia wants to fight them, but Rill decides to offer them the peppermints in exchange for being allowed to pass. The boys ask where Rill got peppermints and she tells them about Mr. Riggs. Camellia tells them Mr. Riggs is her friend, thinking it will scare the boys out of messing with them. However, one of the boys leans close to Rill and tells her not to let Riggs catch her alone because he “ain’t the kind of friend you want.”
The boy’s statement that Riggs isn’t the “kind of friend” Rill and her siblings want to have is also the first clue that there is widespread and not-so-secret abuse going on in the home. Camellia’s pride in her so-called friendship with Riggs makes her particularly vulnerable to him.