Sylvie reads a letter from Hugh, who is now a captain in the army after leaving for the Front a few months prior. His letters are cheerful and guarded, never mentioning death or dying. She had shouted at him when he enlisted, telling him to think of his wife and children. He had said that he wanted to defend them and could not have watched others enlist while he did nothing.
Again, Atkinson highlights the divisions between genders: Sylvie argues on behalf of herself and her children, while Hugh is interested in more traditionally male pursuits like honor and defending the nation.
Despite Sylvie’s objections, she had been part of the “enormous flag-waving throng” of people to see him and the other soldiers off. She was surprised at the cheering and rabid patriotism of the women, as if they had already won a great victory. Sylvie, Mrs. Glover, and Bridget spend a good deal of their time knitting for their men—Sylvie for Hugh, Mrs. Glover for George, and Bridget for her new love, Sam Wellington—a groom from Ettringham hall to whom Bridget had given her heart.
The division between men and women during World War I is expanded upon in this chapter. While men are off fighting, the women of the Todd household contribute to the war in a traditionally domestic way: knitting.
The household routine is affected in other ways: they no longer eat in their dining room, as Sylvie deemed it too extravagant. Pamela helped to set the table in the morning room instead, and she has also taken up the sewing project, mass-producing mufflers. This pleasantly surprises Sylvie, who thinks that Pamela’s capacity for monotony will “stand her in good stead for her life to come.”
Atkinson critiques this kind of domestic “participation” in the war effort, as the family abstaining from eating in the dining room will have no effect on the outcome of the war. Additionally, Sylvie’s thoughts concerning Pamela’s capacity for monotony again exhibit her unwillingness or lack of desire to change the status quo regarding gender roles, even though she clearly acknowledges negative aspects of her life.
Bridget interrupts Sylvie’s knitting to announce that bombs have been dropped on Norfolk, before shouting to Maurice and Ursula upstairs that their tea is on the table. As she sits down at the table, Pamela tells Sylvie that she misses Hugh. Christmas had come and gone without him, though Izzie had visited and announced that she had joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment. Then, at New Year, all of the children had gotten chicken pox.
Sylvie’s dislike for Izzie is not lessened by Izzie’s participation on the front lines, but Atkinson portrays Izzie more kindly. Even though her actions do not always have the best outcomes, her willingness to step outside of the societal mold proves beneficial for Ursula, as well as for the war effort here.
Ursula, despite her clumsy fingers, has also joined the household knitting frenzy. She received a knitting doll for Christmas named La Reine Solange (Queen Solange). Ursula spends all of her time knitting long lengths of wool that are only useful as mats and lopsided tea cozies. Sylvie encourages her, telling her “Practice makes perfect.”
Sylvie’s “practice makes perfect” mantra is not only relevant to Ursula’s knitting, but also relevant to her reincarnations, as she starts to avoid or try to preemptively avert the circumstances that ended a previous life.
Ursula hears Bridget’s call to tea but ignores her, since she is in the middle of knitting with her doll. Maurice is pacing around the room like a caged lion, still sick with the chicken pox. Maurice snatches up a figurine of Pamela’s and throws it into the air violently. Then he grabs Ursula’s doll and runs around with it like an airplane before opening the window and sending it out into the night.
The conflict between Maurice and Ursula continues, as his animosity towards her is detrimental to her well-being. By throwing her doll out the window, Maurice indirectly leads to Ursula’s death.
Ursula pulls a chair over to the window and sees Queen Solange stuck between two of the attic roofs. Continuing to ignore Bridget’s calls, she climbs out onto the roof and immediately slips on the ice covering the roof. She races down the roof, nothing stopping her from being propelled into the “black wings of night.” Darkness falls.
Ursula’s death is, like the incident in the ocean, a product of bad circumstances. In the next life, Ursula has a small moment of doubt and Bridget prevents her from stepping out onto the window, demonstrating how the smallest feeling or change in circumstance can rescue a person from disastrous events.