Summary: Part XIII: Secateurs

Aunt Lydia describes how she installed a hidden camera at the base of her statue, hoping to capture footage of Aunt Elizabeth placing an offering. Several days went by without activity, but on the fourth day, Aunt Vidala came at dawn and placed an egg, an orange, and a handkerchief embroidered with lilacs, Aunt Lydia’s botanical symbol. Aunt Lydia filed the footage away for future use against Aunt Vidala and wondered how to use the information to turn her fellow Founders against each other.

Aunt Lydia turns to a matter that happened nine years prior to her writing when Aunt Lise came to her office to report Becka’s suicide attempt. Aunt Lise explained that Becka was threatening another attempt on her own life unless her wedding was called off. Aunt Lydia asked what stood at the root of Becka’s aversion to marriage, and Aunt Lise admitted that the girl had a fear of penises. Aunt Lydia decided to admit Becka to Ardua Hall on a six-month trial, after which she could become a Supplicant to the order of the Aunts.

Wanting to know more about Becka’s background, Aunt Lydia asked her if anything traumatic had happened to her involving a man, but the girl didn’t wish to talk about her experience. Aunt Lydia declared that whoever it was, he would eventually receive punishment for his behavior.

Summary: Part XIV: Ardua Hall

Though worried about Becka, Agnes had no information about her friend’s circumstances. Meanwhile, the preparations for her own wedding proceeded apace. Aunt Gabbana returned to present Agnes with three options for a future husband. One was the son of a low-ranking Commander, another was a young intellectual type whose previous Wife had ended up in a mental institution, and the third was Commander Judd. Though the adults presented Agnes with the semblance of a choice, she knew they’d force her to marry Commander Judd because of his elite status. That night, she lay in bed imagining herself stone cold and dead as each of the men tried to have sex with her.

Agnes had a week to choose her future husband, during which time she considered running away or committing suicide. One day, she overheard the Marthas talking about how Aunts sometimes drugged women on their wedding days. The official announcement of Agnes’s engagement to Commander Judd came at the end of the week. The Commander came to the house to express his pleasure, and Agnes felt repulsed by his foul breath. She experienced a nightmare vision of “an enormous, opaque white blob” pursuing her with something like the mouth of a leech.

More Aunts came to make arrangements for the wedding and design the bride’s dress. With only two weeks to go, Agnes’s thoughts returned to suicide. She also imagined murdering Commander Judd on their wedding night, and she relished the thought of Paula discovering his bloody corpse.