Pauline sees her burned arms as a sign that Christ is weak in comparison to the old spirits that were at work in the tent that night, and Pauline feels that no martyr has suffered as she has. She believes that a man comes into her room one night to prod her with all manner of sharp instruments. He says he is the Light of the World, but Pauline believes he might be Lucifer. The visitor scurries off at the sound of approaching footsteps, and tells Pauline they will meet in the desert. Sister Saint Anne arrives with a bowl of broth to feed Pauline, but Pauline insults her and refuses the soup.
Pauline, feeling forsaken by God for not protecting her from the burning stew, now begins to think herself superior to God. Pauline believes her pain to be greater than all martyrs who have gone before her, including Jesus Christ. Pauline returns to the idea that the entity she has been communicating with might not be God, but Satan. (This is reinforced by the idea of the two meeting in “the desert”—Jesus was tempted by Satan in the desert for forty days and forty nights.) Again, Pauline’s visions are not witnessed by anyone else, as the supernatural figure disappears just as another person arrives.
Sister Saint Anne pinches Pauline’s nose to get her to open her mouth for the soup, and Pauline resolves to let herself suffocate. In her thoughts, though, instead of taking the road to the afterlife, she finds herself on the shores of Matchimanito, and sees the lake monster rise before her. She awakes, taking in a deep breath and a mouthful of soup. Sister Saint Anne makes an excuse for Pauline, saying she is so sick she didn’t know what the Sister was saying. Pauline, meanwhile, believes that Christ hid from her out of cowardice in the face of Misshepeshu, but she commits herself again to God despite his weakness. When her bandages are changed, Pauline sheds the dead, burned skin beneath the bandages, like a serpent.
Though Pauline tries to continue her self-deprivation even when burned, Sister Saint Anne won’t allow it. When Pauline attempts to suffocate herself, she sees not God waiting for her on the other side, but Misshepeshu, perhaps revealing what her true beliefs are, or which of these entities is the greater force (in either reality or in her beliefs). Sister Saint Anne shows remarkable tolerance and forgiveness in her treatment of Pauline. Pauline has previously identified the lake monster as a serpent, so it is significant when her own physical presence is compared to that of a snake.
Pauline goes out, her body newly fleshy from having been force-fed in the convent, leaving strange tracks with her shoes worn on the wrong feet. She wants to visit Matchimanito one last time before she takes her vows as novice, and then she will leave all of her previous life behind. Pauline finds Nanapush’s boat and a stone for an anchor, and launches onto the lake alone. Pauline spies the Kashpaws in the woods and lowers the stone, aiming for the lake monster. She believes she sees one of its golden eyes open. The water leaking into the boat reaches Pauline’s ankles, but she prays and the water stops. She calls out to Nanapush and they all turn to watch her.
Despite the fact that the Mother Superior tells Pauline not to wear her shoes on the wrong feet in the convent, Pauline switches them when she leaves. Pauline intends to spend 40 days and nights in a boat on the lake as a form of repentance or testing, similar to the way Jesus wandered the desert for that amount of time, being tempted by Satan. Even in this moment of offering, Pauline is most concerned with people witnessing her act of faith than with actually doing the right thing.
People gather on shore, including the women from the convent. Father Damien launches a canoe onto the water, but the water carries him back to shore. Pauline sees the Morrisseys approach, including Napoleon and young Marie. The Kashpaws and Pillagers retreat, but Nanapush stays on the shore, getting into the same canoe Father Damien had tried to row out. Nanapush reaches Pauline and yells at Pauline to get into the canoe, but she quotes scripture and lies down in the boat instead. Nanapush points to the people watching on land and tells Pauline to look, but Pauline just laughs at them, believing them all damned. Nanapush returns to shore.
Father Damien’s attempt to rescue Pauline fails because he is not connected to the natural world in a way that allows him to master the lake. Nanapush has more success, but he doesn’t have the power to convince Pauline to get into his boat, and doesn’t want to sacrifice his own life to save hers. Even in this moment, where Pauline is most vulnerable, she still sees herself as superior to the other people who are “damned” for their sins, while she remains on the right side of God.
Pauline looks for a sign, and finally sees Fleur standing on the shore. Pauline calls to her and Fleur, in her white scarf, seems to grow in response to the call. Pauline imagines Fleur as a door into blackness, hears the hinges creak, and then finds herself in the darkness, unable to breathe, as though drowned. Then Fleur walks away, and Pauline regains her senses.
Pauline has a vision of Fleur that is similar to the vision she had of the Virgin Mary. Fleur’s influence is reflected in the way her form swells on the shore, indicating again that native belief, which Fleur represents, has a stronger hold on Pauline’s mind.
Night falls, and Pauline tries to bail out the boat. The numbers on shore dwindle. Pauline reveals that she intends to wait forty days and forty nights in the boat, her version of a desert, while she waits for her tempter, the lake monster, to appear. Pauline lies down in the boat to pray out of the wind, but the lake monster cuts the anchor’s rope and the boat drifts toward shore.
Despite claiming that she wanted to suffer, Pauline tucks herself out of the wind to minimize her suffering. When her boat begins to drift back to shore, she makes no attempt to return to the middle of the lake and finish her gesture, reasoning that the lake monster must have cut the rope so that they might have their interaction—another example of the way Pauline always justifies her actions when her commitment falters. Again, the forty days and nights reflects the temptation of Christ in the desert, showing again how Pauline essentially has a “Messiah complex” and thinks herself to be like Jesus.
Pauline stands in the boat and strips off her clothes, clutching only her rosary. The boat slams into shore and Pauline scrambles to right herself, calling out to the devil to show himself. The monster approaches, the size of a man. Pauline seizes the man and uses her rosary around his neck to strangle him. She kicks his body until the light begins to come up in the sky, and slowly, she sees that the monster takes on the form of Napoleon Morrissey.
Shedding her clothes shows Pauline finally shedding her inhibitions and following her instincts without worrying about the judgment of others. She uses a symbol of her faith, her rosary, to kill the “devil” she meets on shore—an entity she first sees in the form of the lake monster, but then determines to be her true demon, the man who she believes caused her to sin.
Pauline convinces herself that what she has done is no sin, because there was no way to know the form the devil would take. Pauline drags Napoleon’s body into the high weeds. She begins to walk back to the Mission, but rolls in mud to hide her nudity and throws away her rosary. She continues to cloak herself in the forest materials to shroud her humanity.
Pauline again justifies her actions by convincing herself that the person she killed was indeed the devil. Despite her claim that it was the devil she killed, her actions contradict her thoughts in her urge to hide the body. Her shame returns in her urge to cover her nakedness, but in doing so she connects to the earth, coating herself in the natural substances of the forest.
Pauline shares that she is now recovered and about to be initiated by the bishop, taking Christ as her husband. She overhears that the Morrisseys found Napoleon in the woods and blamed Fleur for his death. Pauline believes that her deed of killing the devil in the form of Napoleon has chained the lake monster to the bottom of the lake. The surveyors visit the Pillager land to measure it so that it can be divided and sold. Meanwhile Pauline has been assigned to teach math at a Catholic school in Argus. Pauline doesn’t like this assignment, but she sees it as further opportunity to atone, and looks forward to gathering those souls as her responsibility, too. She receives the new name of Leopolda to go by.
Pauline affirms her belief as she is about to be formally initiated as a nun. She again allows Fleur to take the blame for a death Pauline has caused, and even believes that she has somehow gained control of the lake monster, rather than Fleur. Pauline is the first to inform the reader that the Pillager land is indeed going to be sold, even though the fees had been assumed to have been paid. Pauline seems to have basically gone mad at this point, and sees herself as a savior doing battle with the devil and communing directly with God—even though she also believes the Catholic God is weaker than the entities of the native religion she has rejected. She dislikes her new assignment as math teacher, but by now she has wholeheartedly cut off her Native side and embraced white culture and religion.