The ever-judgmental Judith is never shy when it comes to expressing her opinions. One evening, just before everyone's about to go to bed, she expresses her frustration at having a female cousin staying with them rather than a boy.
Judith is profoundly unhappy at Kit's presence in the household, not least because it means that she'll have to share a bed with her. Her mother, Kit's Aunt Rachel, tries to defend Kit, but even she is forced to acknowledge, with a deep sigh, that it would have been different to have a boy around the house.
Rachel's plaintive response gives us a clue as to why Kit's family would prefer that she were a boy. As Mercy tells Kit later on, Rachel has lost two boys in infancy. Rates of infant mortality in those days were very high, and so for Rachel to lose not one but two infant children was sadly not all that unusual.
The first boy caught a fever, along with Mercy. Although Mercy was left permanently crippled by the fever, she at least managed to pull through. Tragically, the same could not be said of her brother, who passed away.
Aunt Rachel gave birth to another boy, but he only lived for a week. In common with the prevailing Puritan orthodoxy, she attributed her child's tragic, untimely death to the will of God.