Chapter 9 Summary
Following their outdoor adventures, Sylvie and Ruth begin to receive numerous visitors at the house, starting with the sheriff. The sheriff is a nice man, who seems initially embarrassed to be bothering them. The sheriff’s visits are also supplemented by ones from ladies from town. Ruth recognizes the essentially Christian culture of Fingerbone and ascribes theses visits as being motivated by a need to do good. The women who visit come bearing food and often promise to have their husbands come and make some repairs around the house. They do their best to disguise their horror at the condition of the house. Numerous windows are missing window panes, and the parlor is filled with the newspapers and cans that Sylvie collects. The newspapers have attracted a number of rodents; the pantry is overrun with crickets; and birds have begun to take over the upstairs. To help with this problem, Sylvie brings home a stray cat who soon births two large litters. The cats go after the animals infesting the house, but often leave the remains of their conquests in the parlor, which only further concerns the visiting ladies.
Initially, like the sheriff, the ladies err on the far side of politeness, trying to be sociable despite the chaos of the house. Eventually, they become more direct about expressing their concerns for Ruth. Sylvie learns that the whole town knows about the boat and the train ride. Sylvie dismisses the events as a one-time occurrence and remarks that being around Ruth is much like having her sister back. Later, when Sylvie takes some chicken to Lucille, she returns with a clearer sense of the town’s concerns about her and Ruth. Sylvie seems genuinely worried that they will take Ruth from her and asks Ruth for reassurance that it won’t happen. That night, Sylvie stays up all night cleaning in an attempt to make a fresh start. She insists that Ruth go to school despite the girl’s protests. After a painful day at school (during which Lucille continues to ignore her), Ruth returns to the house to find the sheriff again talking to Sylvie. Sylvie makes some protests about splitting up the family, but the sheriff informs her that there will be a hearing about Ruth’s guardianship. When the sheriff realizes that Ruth has returned home, he sends her out of the room so that he can continue explaining the predicament to Sylvie.