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At Eunice's, Dicey finds herself lulled by a numbing routine of housework. The policeman visits Dicey and shows her pictures of the unidentified dead found that summer, and since Momma is not among them, they are reasonably certain that she is still alive. James seems happy at the school camp, where the teachers encourage him in his thirst for learning. Eunice takes a special liking to the meek and quiet Maybeth, and Sammy hungrily demands attention from Dicey every day when he comes home. Dicey spends her days looking through Eunice's photo albums, and finds shots of her sour-faced grandmother as a girl.
One afternoon, Dicey visits Father Joseph to ask if the church in Crisfield was able to give him any information about her grandmother. Father Joseph tells her what he was able to find out: Abigail Tillerman's husband, John Tillerman, was a stern and forbidding husband and father and had died several years prior. They had had three children, a son who was living estranged in California, a son who had been killed in Vietnam, and Momma, who had run off with Francis Verricker, a sailor, when she was twenty. Father Joseph tells Dicey he suspects that the family was quite unhappy and that Abigail, when the priest had come to ask after her on her lonely farm on the outskirts of Crisfield, had refused to listen to him by drowning out his words with screams. Father Joseph goes on to tell Dicey that both Maybeth and Sammy are doing poorly—Maybeth, he suspects, may be retarded, and Sammy is hostile and belligerent. Dicey tries desperately to defend and explain her younger siblings, but Father Joseph tells Dicey she must consider adoption.
Shortly thereafter, the police send Dicey the money earned by the sale of her mother's car, and Dicey, relieved and empowered, tucks it away. Inspired by the feeling of security the money has given her, she begins to work by washing windows around town. Slowly, her stash grows and with it her sense of power. One night at dinner, Sammy refuses to explain to Eunice why he got into a fight that day and she stiffly sends him to bed without supper. After supper that night, Eunice confesses to Dicey that before the children had arrived, she had planned on becoming a nun, but that since their arrival, Father Joseph has convinced her that adopting the children and becoming their guardian is the work she is meant to do. Eunice tells Dicey that she has decided to accept this duty. Dicey, speechless and horrified despite herself, goes to bed wondering what she should do.
As the summer advances, Dicey watches with displeasure as Eunice and her friends dote on the beautiful and easily-flattered Maybeth. Dicey begins to feel sorry for Eunice and more acutely uncomfortable with their role in her life. When Dicey receives a note from school about Maybeth, she responds much as Momma did, by tearing the portentous note into little pieces, but she goes in to see the teacher the next day anyway. The nun who speaks to her tells Dicey how worried she is about Maybeth's progress, suggesting that Maybeth needs special classes. They both watch as Maybeth sits quietly on the playground, refusing to sing or play with the other children. That day, Sammy gets in another fight because a boy had told him he was going to a foster home. Dicey decides she must visit their mysterious grandmother, to see if there is any hope there.
That night, the policeman returns and explains that they found Momma comatose in a mental hospital. Dicey gazes at the picture of her mother, hair shorn and eyes closed. The adults around her begin to talk about adoption procedures, hinting that Maybeth and Sammy may have to be given up to someone else. Dicey tells her siblings about Momma that night, and the next morning, she prepares to leave alone for Crisfield, leaving notes for Eunice and James explaining where she has gone. When she leaves the house, however, she finds her sibling waiting for her. They leave together, and resume their journey.
In roughly the middle of the book, the Tillermans experience a lull in their incessant forward motion. Dicey, who has learned to love the independence, self- sufficiency, and freedom, becomes withdrawn, unfocused, and dispirited. Her withdrawal and mental confusion results partly from the fact that, in their stable surroundings, the children no longer depend on her as explicitly, and consequently do not reach out to each other as much. They each become drawn into their own worlds—James into his studies, Maybeth into a quiet sadness, and Sammy into his belligerence. Now that their survival is not at stake, the children feel inclined to experience their own problems without reaching out for the help of the others. Their withdrawal from each other is made more explicit by the adults: Father Joseph suggests the possibility of splitting the children up to different sets of foster or adoptive parents, the nun wants to label Maybeth as mentally deficient, and Eunice wants Sammy to behave. Eunice, despite her resolve to adopt the children, says it is a sacrifice and that she still has doubts about Sammy. Dicey's nightmares are coming true: she is losing her grip on her family as the adult world labels them, dissects them, and objectively and pragmatically considers splitting them up.
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