Summary: Part X

Grace continues her story, conveying McDermott’s account of what happened after he shot at her and she fainted in the garden. He claimed that after he revived her with cold water, she cooked ham and eggs and they celebrated their success over whiskey. But Grace claims not to remember anything until she awoke in her own bed much later, at dusk.

Grace claims she fell asleep again and woke up on the floor. McDermott was in her room, and he said he’d come to collect on her promise to give herself to him in exchange for killing Nancy. Grace didn’t remember making such a promise and worried McDermott had gone mad. McDermott tried to force sex upon Grace several times, at first in her bedroom, then in Mr. Kinnear’s, and finally in Nancy’s, but the sight of a magazine in Nancy’s blood-soaked bed sobered McDermott and he gave up.

Not sure how long McDermott’s solemn mood would hold, Grace insisted they pack their things and leave before anyone came to the house. After ransacking the house for valuables and tidying everything up, Grace put on one of Nancy’s dresses and burned her own clothes.

Grace and McDermott set off with Mr. Kinnear’s horse and carriage. They rode through the night. Looking up at the dark sky, Grace sensed the emptiness of the universe. She tried to pray for God to forgive her for her sins, but she also worried that God didn’t exist.

Grace fell asleep and awoke on the ground with McDermott on top of her. He claimed she had asked to stop the carriage and invited him to have sex with her. She rebuffed him, and when he persisted, she bit him hard on the ear. He grew furious and Grace thought he might kill her, but he let her go.

They arrived in Toronto around five in the morning, hid Mr. Kinnear’s wagon, and purchased tickets for the ferry that would take them across Lake Ontario to the United States. Grace encouraged McDermott to shave and change his clothes so that no one would recognize him. He went off to do these things, and though Grace had a chance to run away, she decided to wait for him. Despite her fear, she recognized that McDermott had “a human heart,” and she didn’t want to betray him.

On the ferry, a fellow passenger pointed out a steamer in the distance and told Grace it was called Lady of the Lake. Grace explains to Dr. Jordan that there was a quilt pattern of the same name, which she’d previously believed to be named after the poem by Sir Walter Scott. But the pattern didn’t look like a lady or a lake. Grace understood that the boat must have taken its name from the poem, and the quilt had taken its name from the boat since the pattern included a pinwheel design that resembled a steamboat paddle. She explains to Dr. Jordan how this realization gave her a renewed sense of faith because she realized that things could make sense if one pondered them enough.

After Grace and McDermott arrived at Lewiston, they checked into rooms at a tavern. McDermott again tried to force himself on Grace, but she locked him out of her room. In bed, she comforted herself with the thought that in a hundred years she would be dead and no longer worried about the trouble she was in. On the edge of sleep, she saw a vision of a ship’s wake disappearing on the surface of the water. Grace linked this vision to a sensation that her own footsteps were erased, and, as she gave in to the feeling that she never existed, she thought to herself, “It is almost the same as being innocent.”

Grace dreamt that she was walking up to Mr. Kinnear’s house, and, as she approached, lamps turned on in the windows. She felt a longing to go inside. Just as a hand slipped into hers, she awoke to someone knocking on the door.

Analysis: Part X

The account Grace gives of the aftermath of the murders again underscores the horrible behavior of men and the vulnerability of women. Though many ambiguities exist in her tale, according to Grace, McDermott felt empowered after he killed Nancy and Mr. Kinnear and largely took control of the situation. His newfound sense of power emboldened him to make a series of unwanted sexual advances on Grace, placing her in an especially vulnerable position. Although Grace’s account of McDermott’s ferocious sexual advances shows her innocence, the reader also knows that during the trial, McDermott continued to claim that Grace had promised him sexual favors. This charge against Grace largely convinced the public of Grace’s guilt, since they assumed she must have wielded her feminine wiles to seduce McDermott and make him commit the murders. Such an argument results from a profound bias against women, a bias that is, in turn, rooted in a fear of women that stands at the heart of a patriarchal society. McDermott’s repeated attempts sexual violence against Grace once again point to the social inequality between men and women.

A point of ambiguity arises during the carriage scene, when Grace looks to the sky and tries to pray to a God who might not even exist. Although Grace describes the agony involved in this crisis of faith, her attitude toward religion throughout the rest of the novel places the authenticity of her faith in question. Consider the descriptions Grace provided in Part III of her experience in the asylum. The matrons there were all deeply religious. They frequently urged Grace to repent, implying that her apparent madness stemmed from the accumulation of sins. Yet Grace knew full well that she was not insane and that the matrons profoundly misunderstood her condition. Grace also criticized the prison chaplain, who used the Christian language of forgiveness and redemption to manipulate prisoners into confessing. Given these examples of religious criticism, Grace’s appeal to God in Part X seems out of character. It is possible that Grace has authentic faith and that she simply disagrees with how some religious people use their authority to force others to believe. However, it is also possible that Grace inserts this plea as a way to punctuate her story with a moment of crisis that will gain more sympathy from her listener.

The possibility that Grace feigns her appeal to God is supported by the scene on the ferry. Grace describes how she came to understand that the quilt pattern called Lady of the Lake was not named after the poem by Sir Walter Scott but for a boat. She interprets her own process of understanding as a sign that order exists in the world,and that she can indeed continue to have faith. Yet even though Grace sees a “design” in the order of things, the faith she professes here is not explicitly religious. Furthermore, from a storytelling perspective, the scene on the ferry serves as a suspiciously convenient follow-up to the scene in the carriage. If the crisis of faith in the carriage represented the climax of Grace’s life story, then the swift restoration of that faith on the ferry represents the falling action. Grace’s account therefore takes the shape of a story of faith lost and regained, a shape so typical in literature as to be suspicious for real-life experience. In other words, Grace may well have shaped her story into pattern of her own design, one meant to appeal to listeners and gain their sympathy.

At the conclusion of Part X, while hovering between waking and sleeping states, Grace has a vision that she understands as a sign of her possible innocence. Grace’s vision superimposes two images. The first involves waves on a lake resolving back into a smooth and undisturbed surface. The second involves Grace’s footsteps, which disappear behind her as she walks. Both images contribute to a sense of self-erasure—that is, a feeling that all signs of Grace are fading, as if she never existed at all. As her mind fades from consciousness toward sleep, Grace conflates these images of self-erasure with a notion of innocence: “It is almost the same as being innocent.” On one hand, Grace’s mind may be working to convince her of her own innocence. On the other hand, her conclusion has a mark of hesitation. The images of self-erasure don’t confirm her innocence, they only simulate it: it is almost the same as being innocent, but not quite. Seen from this perspective, Grace’s double vision may actually confirm her guilt.