Following Botticelli’s instructions, Roscuro goes to take the red cloth from the new prisoner. Roscuro slips through the cell bars and welcomes the man to the dungeons. The prisoner tells Roscuro to go away; he’s just a rat, and the man doesn’t need a rat’s company. But Roscuro persists, and encourages the man to forget he’s a rat and confess his sins. Sighing, the prisoner agrees, but only because there’s no point in keeping secrets from a rat. The prisoner says he’s here because he stole six cows, but he committed a worse crime many years ago and nobody knows about it. He sold his daughter for his red tablecloth, a hen, and some cigarettes.
The prisoner underestimates Roscuro and all rats—the way he justifies confessing his sins to Roscuro suggests he sees rats as insignificant and powerless. Given what readers have already seen of what the rats do, this seems unwise. The prisoner’s confession, meanwhile, shows that people commit all manner of crimes—and while some crimes can land a person in legal trouble, there are others that weigh on a person’s conscience. He implies, for instance, that he’s thinking mostly about selling his daughter now that he’s imprisoned, rather than about stealing the cows.
Roscuro isn’t alarmed by this confession. Rat parents, after all, don’t care much for their kids, and Roscuro’s parents would’ve sold him had the opportunity presented itself. And Roscuro has heard Botticelli’s stories of prisoners’ confessions—humans are capable of so much evil. The prisoner continues that the worst part was that he didn’t even look back as his daughter cried for him. He sniffs. Roscuro has by now crept right to the man’s side. He asks if the cloth comforts the man, and if it reminds him of his sin. The prisoner sniffs that it does. Roscuro says he’ll ease the man’s burden, and he rips the cloth off the man’s shoulders and scurries away with it.
Roscuro is already well aware of what people are capable of, and what they’re willing to do to each other—which suggests that Roscuro likely sees people mostly as evil. The prisoner’s continued confession confirms that what haunts him is indeed betraying his daughter, in much the same way that Lester, for instance, betrayed Despereaux. When Roscuro steals the cloth, he steals the one thing that connects the man to his daughter—something he knows instinctively the man doesn’t want to lose.
Ignoring the prisoner’s protests, Roscuro drags the red cloth to his nest. Upon closer inspection, the cloth is disappointing. Roscuro knows now that he needs the light, not the cloth—and he knows that to get the light, he needs to go upstairs.
While Roscuro is disappointed with the cloth, he doesn’t feel bad about stealing from the prisoner—he may be interested in, and even capable of good, but he doesn’t seem to have much of a moral compass yet.