Ruth May believes that she became sick because of all the bad things she has done, like seeing Axelroot's diamonds. She thinks about the amulet that Nelson gave to her, and decides that when she reappears it will be as a mamba snake. It is clear that she chooses this "safe place" because mamba snakes are what frighten her most.

Rachel turns seventeen, and is outraged that no one makes a fuss over her birthday. Orleanna gives Rachel a pair of her own earrings but then must return to care for Ruth May whose fever has shot up to a hundred and five. In addition, Adah is stung by a scorpion and Rachel is convinced that her sisters are purposefully trying to steal the attention away from her.

Ruth May recovers, but remains listless and uninspired. Orleanna likes to avoid the house as much as possible and takes the girls on long nature walks every day, culminating in a picnic. Leah teaches arithmetic in Anatole's school in the mornings, and then learns French and Kikongo from him in the afternoons. She is also learning to use a bow and arrow from Nelson, and is showing a real talent for the sport. Nathan alone remains completely unchanged, obtusely ranting that "Tata Jesus is bangala," which, as Adah points out, can either mean "Jesus is precious" or, if you say it too quickly as Nathan does, "Jesus is a poisonwood tree."

As Leah spends the afternoons reading with Anatole she often interrupts him to pose various questions. They become involved in another long discussion about race, politics, and justice. Leah tries to explain to him what the United States is like—with its abundance and large cities—and Anatole does not quite believe her. She then asks why he translates her father's sermons if he does not believe that the Reverend's goals are good ones, and he explains that he wants the other villagers to have the chance to make their own decisions.

The day after her birthday Rachel and Axelroot go for a walk in the jungle. They kiss, and he then confides a secret in her: Patrice Lumumba is going to be killed. Again, she does not believe him, certain that he is just trying to impress her with his importance so that he can continue kissing her.

Adah continues to spy on Eeben Axelroot. She sees him speaking code into his radio, and one day a man called "W.I. Rogue" joins him in his cabin. They talk about Patrice Lumumba being "as good as dead," and link the assassination plot to President Eisenhower. Adah is distraught over this revelation, finding it hard to believe that the United States is orchestrating a coup that will overthrow the elected government and murder an innocent man.