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Kya receives a letter from her editor, Robert Foster, inviting her to meet him in Greenville. She runs into Tate doing research and joins him on his research boat to see amoebae through his microscope. She is impressed by the boat but especially by the microscope. They have coffee and Tate notices her bruised eye. When Kya leaves, Tate throws her a red wool cap. As Kya arrives home, she sees Chase’s boat entering her channel and hides. She realizes Chase will keep coming after her.
The guard, Jacob, brings Kya gifts from Jumpin’. She meets with her lawyer Tom who tells her she could get a plea deal for second-degree murder and spend only 6–10 years in prison. Kya refuses the deal. After Jacob clears her supper tray, Kya sees the courtroom cat, Sunday Justice, in the cell area. The cat sleeps with her all night. In the morning Sunday Justice is gone, but Kya asks Jacob to let him in at night when possible. Kya agrees to see Tate. He tells her he is feeding the gulls and that he is sitting behind her in the courtroom. She tells him to forget about her, but he says he won’t.
Back in the courtroom, Kya turns around to see Jumpin’ and Mabel sitting with Tate, which gives her strength. The prosecution calls Dr. Steward Cone, the coroner, who testifies that Chase could have been pushed through the opening in the grate. He also testifies that the red wool fibers found on Chase’s blue jacket were from Kya’s hat. Tom Milton cross-examines Dr. Cone, who admits there is no evidence Chase was pushed, that the fibers could have gotten on Chase’s jacket at any time, and that there was no evidence of Kya being present when Chase died.
Kya goes to Jumpin’s wharf to get the bus schedule. She tells him about her trip to Greenville. Jumpin’ sees the fading bruises and asks if Chase beat her. Kya begs him not to tell anyone, because people will blame her just like they would if a girl from Colored Town accused Chase of assault and attempted rape. Jumpin’ agrees.
Prosecutor Eric calls the sheriff as a witness. Sheriff Ed testifies that someone must have covered up any footprints at the scene. Defense attorney Tom points out that if Chase arrived at low tide, the rising tide overnight would have washed away any footprints. Tom also shows evidence that months before Chase’s death, the sheriff sent a letter to the U.S. Forest Service about how dangerous the fire tower was.
Kya goes to Greenville on the bus and everyone in town sees her. When she returns two days later, she goes home. When she tells Jumpin’ she is back the next day, he tells her about Chase’s death and that Chase’s wife Pearl is claiming the missing shell necklace proves he was murdered.
Eric calls two bus drivers as witnesses. Larry Price testifies that on the 11:50 p.m. bus from Greenwood to Barkley Cove, there was a tall, thin man who may have been Kya in disguise. John King, the driver of the 2:30 a.m. bus back to Greenville, testifies that a tall woman with curly gray hair on the bus may have been Kya in a different disguise. Tom undermines their testimony in his cross-examination.
Jodie joins Tate, Jumpin’, and Mabel behind Kya in the courtroom. The next witness, Patti Love, shows the court a journal of paintings Kya made for Chase. One painting shows Kya giving Chase the shell necklace on top of the fire tower.
Kya compares the people in the court to creatures she knows in the marsh. The prosecutor calls Hal Miller who testifies that he and another shrimper in Tim O’Neal’s crew saw Kya in her boat speeding toward the fire tower at 1:45 a.m. on the night of Chase’s death. The prosecution rests its case.
Tom Milton calls Sarah Singletary, a clerk from the Piggly Wiggly, who testifies she saw Kya get on the bus and come back two days later. Tom has several other witnesses ready to testify to this same information, but the prosecution accepts that Kya got on and off the bus as witnessed. Next, Mr. Lang Furlough, operator of the Three Mountains Motel in Greenville, testifies that Kya stayed there two nights and he did not see her leave during the night that Chase was killed. The prosecutor points out Mr. Furlough was busy that night.
Scupper joins the group of Kya’s supporters. Scupper feels guilty for not accepting Kya all those years Tate loved and defended her.
Tom calls Robert Foster, Kya’s publisher, to the stand. He testifies he drove her to her hotel room the night of the murder at 10 p.m. and picked her up for breakfast at 7 a.m. the next morning. While he’s testifying, Kya remembers a pre-dawn picnic Tate took her on when she was 15, to a hidden spot in the marsh. There they watched as hundreds of thousands of migrating snow geese settled around them, making the ground look like a snow-covered field. When he is finished testifying, Robert Foster joins the group sitting behind Kya.
Tom calls the sheriff back to the stand and questions the timeline on the night of the murder. He suggests that Kya would not have had enough time to get from the bus stop to the scene of the murder, commit the murder, then return to catch the last bus. Sheriff Ed says she may have run by foot to the murder scene, introducing another unproven theory.
Tom calls his final witness, the shrimper Tim O’Neal. Tim contradicts the testimony of Hal Miller, saying that it would have been impossible to identify Kya in her boat with no moon or boat lights from so far away.
The two lawyers make their closing statements, and Tom asks the jury to look beyond their prejudices and the rumors about Kya and see that she has a solid alibi and the prosecution has not proven their case. Tom says, “It is time, at last, for us to be fair to the Marsh Girl.”
Kya's trial is an ongoing attempt to wrest the chaos of nature into order, but even as Kya sits in her jail cell, nature will not be pushed away entirely. The courthouse cat, Sunday Justice, provides a tenuous link to the natural world and provides Kya some consolation with his regular overnight visits. Kya begins to self-harm, pulling hairs from her arm as she has seen gulls do with feathers to demonstrate some control over her circumstances. Kya sees a parallel between the figures in the courtroom and the pecking order of power among animals of the marsh. Casting each into the role of a male in a pack, starting with the secure alpha male of the judge, down to the ostentatious grasping of the bailiff, Kya once again uses her skill of taxonomy to create some meaning out of the proceedings.
At this point, the narrative has worked to suggest strongly that fear, as much as love of nature, is what keeps Kya isolated. After refusing to see Tate, Kya relents. She asks him to forget her, since being around people is what damages her most. If she is alone, she can endure the loneliness. Kya is still vulnerable to disappointments, and her conclusion is one that she has arrived at often: Loneliness is preferable to hurt.