Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1374
Esther enters Mayme's boudoir to find her very excited and in need of something new. A man nicknamed Songbird has been visiting her, and she wants to look nice for him. Though a client like all the others, Mayme likes him and asks him to stay to drink with her after his visits. He comes three times a week, and she even enjoys being kissed by him. Songbird has a wife; according to Mayme, his wife is rich but "troubles" him.
Esther warns Mayme that she is on "uneasy ground," but Mayme dismisses her, saying Esther wouldn't understand. From under her pillow, she draws out the Japanese silk smoking jacket Esther made for George, and announces that her Songbird gave it to her. Esther is surprised, and says Songbird must like Mayme a lot to have given her something so fine. She explains that the fabric is expensive and unique, and she asks Mayme, "What about his wife?"
Mayme is not interested in discussing Songbird’s wife, but Esther presses her, asking how Mayme can know the wife is not a good person or whether Songbird is telling the truth. Mayme says she doesn't know and asks if it matters. Esther points out that after men have left Mayme, their wives have to wash their clothes for them. These wives stay up at night wondering where their husbands might be and are grateful when they come home. Mayme says she doesn't care to think of those women, and tells Esther she isn't completely clean of the business herself. She had thought Esther would be happy for her. Esther says she doesn't feel well and leaves.
In George and Esther's bedroom, George is in a new suit, which Esther is adjusting, saying it is "white folk quality." When she asks him to take off the pants so she can hem them, George says he wants to keep them on for this evening. Esther had hoped he would stay in this evening. She plans to cook says she has something for him, revealing a corset similar to Mayme's.
George is disappointed—clearly having expected something else—and slightly "disgusted." He tells Esther to put her clothes on and that this isn't like her. Esther reminds him that a husband has certain obligations and asks why George won't touch her. In response, George grabs her roughly and kisses her. Angrily, George says that he doesn't know where he stands with Esther as he did in Panama. Esther asks him to touch her, to lie down, but George refuses. When Esther asks why he is acting this way, George says he thinks she knows. He asks once more for the money in her quilt, insisting that he can use it to make even more money and give them a better life.
Esther denies him, saying the money is half her life, but George says it is doing no good where it is and asks why even she, his wife, will not believe in him. If he has money to buy the horses, he says, in a few years they will be Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong, seated in the front row in church, and he will lie only with Esther. He kisses and touches Esther, and she begins to soften.
Esther asks if George is telling her the truth. When he says yes, she tears open the quilt and places the money in his hands. George is shocked that there is so much, but Esther tells him to put it back for now, saying it will still be there in the morning. She beckons George to bed, but George instead takes up a bag and begins placing the money in it.
When Esther asks George if he loves her, George simply replies that she is his wife. "Am I?" she says, confessing that she did not write the letters to him. She explains her fear of being found out and that she looks at the letters every day, even though she cannot read them. She says that the man in George’s letters does not appear to be the same man she married. Suspicious, she demands to know who wrote George's letters.
George confesses that he paid "an old mulatto man" to write the letters. Esther says she isn't really Mrs. Armstrong, the woman in the letters, and that they are strangers. She doesn't want George to touch her, but George says he has come to feel the things in the letter, and with this money, they can begin again now.
Esther arrives at Mayme's boudoir, much to Mayme's surprise. Mayme says she is expecting someone and cannot put him off, but Esther tells her that George has left her—that he has another woman. This mystery woman has apparently told Esther this herself. Mayme is shocked by this, saying that the woman in question must be heartless. Esther says that isn't the case; at first, she wanted to hurt and disfigure George's "whore" to make her feel what she herself was feeling but realized that the other woman will know soon enough.
Mayme tells Esther again she has to go, but Esther ignores this and admits to Mayme that she gave all her money to George because she wanted to be held. The previous night, George never came home, and Esther simply sat up sewing a long strip of fabric, waiting for him. When she asks Mayme if she knows where George is, Mayme is confused until Esther explains that she has the jacket Esther had given George on their wedding night.
Horrified, Mayme rips the jacket off. She says that last night, Songbird had arrived with a lot of money and told her he planned to buy draft horses with it. He told Mayme that he would take her somewhere nice where a colored woman could be treated well: a place like the beauty salon Esther had described to her earlier. At that point, Mayme says, "I know who he is. He George." Mayme says George spent the night throwing dice, losing all Esther’s money.
When Esther asks why Mayme didn't stop him, Mayme answers that he belongs to her too. The jacket, however, is Esther's. She places it in Esther's hands and says she isn't worthy of Esther's forgiveness; Esther has never treated her like a whore. George raps on the door. Esther begs Mayme not to answer, telling her to let him go or else they will both be "chasing him forever." Eventually, George leaves.
Esther arrives at Mr. Marks's apartment. She says she has been by a half-dozen times, trying to muster the courage to come in. She shows him the smoking jacket she made out of the Japanese silk and says she wants Mr. Marks to have it. Mr. Marks is touched and, when Esther turns to go, stops her. He takes off his outer jacket and puts on the smoking jacket. Esther says that it fits beautifully. She reaches toward him, smoothing the jacket down. He does not move away. When Esther finally leaves, he remains standing there, contemplating the moment.
Esther enters her old bedroom at Mrs. Dickson's. Happy to see her, Mrs. Dickson hugs her, saying she is glad for the company. When Esther asks if the room has been rented, Mrs Dickson says it is still available. She is pleased when Esther says she would like to come to supper that evening and have a cup of tea with Mrs. Dickson now.
Mrs. Dickson starts to tell Esther about Corinna Mae, who is now pregnant, but Esther stops her and says she doesn't want to hear about Corinna Mae. She also thanks Mrs. Dickson for not asking why she is interested in the room again. Mrs. Dickson has to go outside to bring in some laundry from the line but tells Esther she will see her downstairs shortly and squeezes her hand.
Alone in her old room, Esther touches her belly for a moment before walking over to the sewing machine and beginning to sew together some pieces of fabric: "the beginnings of a new quilt." As the lights fade, a title card is projected above Esther's head. It reads: "Unidentified Negro Seamstress, ca. 1905."