The morning after her conversation with Jamison, Kira meets Matt and tells him that she wants to go to the woods to see Annabella. Matt wants to come with her, reasoning that she’ll need his protection. Kira says that he’ll get hungry, but gives in when he produces a piece of bread he stole from a baker.
Matt’s escapades provide moments of light comedy throughout Gathering Blue—he’s a welcome relief from the disturbing descriptions of death, disease, and infanticide.
Kira and Matt walk through the forest to Annabella. As they walk, Kira asks Matt about his father. Matt can’t remember anything about his father. In the Fen, he explains, it’s not unusual to have no father. He adds that many who do have fathers wish they didn’t, because they hit their children. In Matt’s case, his mother hits him. Kira says proudly that her father was a great hunter. She thanks Matt for bringing her mother’s pendant yesterday. But when she says it was a “gift,” Matt doesn’t understand the concept, because gifts aren’t given in the Fen.
Matt is cheery as he talks about his family, but it’s hard for us to be cheery as we read what he says. In the Fen children are beaten and abused, and often they have to get by without any parents at all. While there’s certainly something charming about Matt, in the way he runs freely through the Edifice and the village, it’s also deeply sad. Matt also shows his lack of understanding of a basic moral concept: the gift. We’ll return to this concept several times more.
After many hours of walking, which Kira finds difficult due to her leg, Kira and Matt reach a small cottage, inside which Matt sees an old woman. Kira enters the cottage, and finds Annabella sitting inside. She greets Kira, who introduces Matt and Branch. Annabella tells Kira to sit, noting that she must be tired from her long walk. Kira explains to Annabella that her mother died before she could teach her how to dye threads. Annabella replies that she knows her mother died, and Kira wonders how she knew this. Annabella says that she will give Kira threads and teach her the names of the plants used to dye threads.
Annabella is clearly a kindly woman; unlike Jamison, for instance, she asks Kira if she’s tired, and offers her rest. It could even be said that Annabella is the closest thing to a mother Kira has now, since Annabella knew Kira’s own mother, and clearly has some maternal feelings for Kira herself.
Annabella gives Kira a lesson in weaving. Each plant corresponds to a different color: red, yellow, mauve, gold, brown, and green. After hours of this, Annabella gives Matt, Branch, and Kira water. She tells Kira that Katrina said Kira had great talent in her fingers. Annabella says that she herself was never a great weaver, since her hands weren’t strong enough. Nevertheless, Annabella promises to teach Kira all the techniques of weaving. She shows Kira a pot containing one unlikely ingredient of dye: old urine, and chuckles.
While weaving involves many different arts and techniques, the most important for Gathering Blue is, as the title suggests, color dyeing. Dyeing is difficult and enormously challenging, and it’s often rather disgusting—old urine, after all, isn’t a very pleasant ingredient to work with. Annabella is highly experienced in her art—she’s been using her urine to weave for so long that she laughs about it.
By the end of the day, Kira has learned the names of plants with which she can produce a large number of dyes. Annabella gives her a bag of colored threads, but tells her that she must learn to make her own. Kira, noticing one color missing from what Annabella has showed her, asks Annabella if she knows how to make the color blue. Annabella replies that blue can be made from a plant called woad. The weaver must plant woad and wait for the first storm of spring. After this storm, she continues, a few shoots of woad will survive and begin to grow. Matt asks who might have woad, and Annabella tells him that the people “yonder” have it.
It’s not yet clear what blue is meant to symbolize or suggest, but it’s also clear that we’re supposed to think of blue as something lacking in the village. This would suggest that blue corresponds to that which the village lacks most conspicuously—compassion and love. Lowry’s brief mention of the people “yonder” will serve as a foundation for when they become more important later in the novel.