Lone DuPres was once the principal midwife in Ruby. When Soane Morgan no longer needed her Oldsmobile and offered it to Lone, Lone was delighted to have the ability to drive to check up on her patients without having to rely on others. However, around this time, her services also ceased to be in demand. Changing times meant that women preferred to deliver in the Demby hospital. Besides, Lone knows, some in town believe her to be partially responsible for the Fleetwood babies and their birth defects, though she has delivered many healthy babies after that. Mostly out of work, Lone relies on the generosity of others and spends her time collecting medicinal herbs.
One night, out harvesting mandrake in the middle of the night before a rain, Lone overhears a meeting of nine prominent men of Ruby at the Oven. They intend to raid the Convent and kill the women inside. Sentiment in Ruby has been coalescing against the Convent, which the townspeople perceive to be a corrupting influence and the source of the town’s problems. The men go over the various “signs” of the Convent’s evil. Some of these signs are real though selectively interpreted; some are outright falsehoods. They recall the Convent women’s shocking appearance at the wedding of K.D. and Arnette, and the fight between Gigi and Mavis in the road. Sweetie Fleetwood claims they attempted to poison her, and that she heard crying babies in the Convent, which the men presume to be a sign of devilish activity and child abuse. They mention Arnette, and how the Convent women supposedly stole her baby and beat her up when she came looking for it the night of her wedding. Sargeant Person confirms that he has found marijuana growing in the corn fields he leases from the Convent. They talk about Mother Mary Magna’s unusual appearance at the time of her death: she “weighed less than fifity pounds and shone like sulfur” (275). They recall Gigi’s scandalous arrival in town. They blame Billie Delia’s strange behavior on her association with the Convent women. But most damning to them is the car full of skeletons found in a field near the Convent, the bodies of the white family that stopped at Anna’s store in the “Seneca” section and ignored their warnings of an impending blizzard.
Lone, in the dark, imagines how each of the men must be receiving this conversation. She reflects on Sargeant Person’s ulterior motives: his farming expenses would be much lower if he could own, rather than lease, the Convent land. The Convent women have always rejected his offer to buy the property, and he has hinted in response that “things could happen [that would] lower the price” (277). Lone thinks of Wisdom Poole’s resentment over the discord in his family, some of which has to do with the conflict between Brood and Apollo over Billie Delia. Arnold and Jeff Fleetwood are ready to blame anyone for the damaged babies, although some were born before the current Convent women arrived. Menus would easily turn on the Convent women in spite, or perhaps because of the times they cared for him while he recovered from alcoholism. Menus’ drinking is publicly attributed to the trauma of the Vietnam War, but Lone thinks it is because, lacking the courage to start a new life elsewhere, he was forced to abandon the light-skinned woman he had hoped to marry. Lone thinks of how K.D. must still have a grudge against Gigi for spurning him, and how Deek and Steward cannot tolerate that which they cannot control. What Lone cannot anticipate, however, is Steward’s other bubbling resentments: over the possibility that a male Morgan heir was harmed or killed at the Convent, over Deek’s affair with Connie that jeopardized his marriage and therefore the project of Ruby, and over the mockery that the Convent women make of Steward and Deek’s treasured memory of the nineteen carefree, prosperous black women, a memory sacred to them both. Likewise, though Lone knows of Deek’s past affair, she does not anticipate the extent of his shame about it.
Lone hurries to find Richard Misner, but his house is empty. She wakes his neighbor, Frances Poole DuPres, who tells her that Misner and Anna have gone to Muskogee for a conference. Lone makes Frances wake Sut, her husband. Although Sut agrees to speak to the Reverends Pulliam and Cary in the morning, Lone is unable to convince him that the men are going out to the Convent and must be stopped. Lone realizes she cannot ask many of the women in Ruby for help because of their allegiances to the men at the meeting and that she must instead drive out to the farms and ranches to seek out those whom she trusts most to go on their conscience rather than familial connections. However, it has started to rain heavily and Lone’s car, lacking windshield wipers, soon stops in a ditch. When she is able to get it out, she drives to find Pious DuPres. The DuPres family adopted Lone when she was a child. Although they are one of the original families, and although they do not approve of the Convent women, Lone knows that the DuPreses value virtue above all else and will see the evil in the men’s plan. Indeed, Pious understands the urgency of the situation, and he and Lone rush immediately to gather Ren and Luther Beauchamp, Deed Sands, and Aaron Poole. Somewhere during this time, Lone makes it out to the Convent to try and warn them, but she is unable to find Connie; the other women, dazed and serene, laugh off her warnings.
At the Convent, the women dance in the warm rain. Afterwards, they ask Connie to tell them about Piedade. They sleep and wake at four in the morning to prepare for the day. At daybreak, the men storm the Convent, and Steward shoots the first woman they see. The men, emboldened, split up throughout the house. Three women are trapped in the game room, but they fight back against Arnold and Jeff Fleetwood and Harper and Menus, whom they successfully disarm. They escape through the schoolroom window. In the basement, Steward, Deek, and K.D. find the women’s drawings, and feel confirmed in their suspicions of the women’s evil.
During this time, the citizens of Ruby have assembled at the Oven, the foundations of which have been destabilized by the rain. Dovey and Soane need no convincing to go out to the Convent, because they suspected something terrible would happen. Dovey hopes that her husband will not be so irresponsible as to destroy everything they have built, because the presence of the white girl in the Convent means their intervention there will concern white law. Soane regrets not having communicated more openly with her husband about her knowledge of his affair, the loss of their third child, and her friendship with Connie. The sisters assure each other that the men would not hurt the women, but would instead only scare them away. They arrive in time to see Steward shoot Connie, which Deek tries to stop. Deek carries her into the kitchen. With her last words, Connie murmurs that Divine, Pallas’ baby, is sleeping.
As the citizens attend to the injured men, arguments break out. Pious and the others condemn the behavior of the men and ask for an explanation. K.D. claims their killing of the women was self-defense, which Aaron immediately dismisses. K.D. also tries to pin the blame for the escalation of violence on his uncle Steward, who slaps him. Steward says that the real evil is in the Convent, but for the first time Deek publicly diverges from his twin, declaring that Steward is lying and that the events of the morning are entirely the men’s fault. Soane implies to Dovey that Connie’s death is Steward’s fault alone, which Dovey rejects. The interaction changes their relationship forever. The citizens of Ruby return, shaken, to their homes. Roger Best returns to Ruby and races out to the Convent as soon as he can, expecting multiple bodies to be collected. However, he finds nothing and no one. Mavis’ Cadillac is also gone.
This chapter serves as the climax of the book. It seems like scapegoating the Convent might serve be the apex of the town’s inward-turning hatred rather than a real solution. It is ironic that in trying to create a haven from the outside world, Ruby has replicated its problems. The possibility arises that by destroying the Convent, the town is also destroying itself. Richard Misner asks, “How could so clean and blessed a mission devour itself and become the world they had escaped?” (292.) The unnecessary nature of the men’s aggression is highlighted by Steward’s act of shooting open the door when they arrive at the Convent, when the narrator notes that the door has “never been locked” (285).
The symmetry between the nine men in the crusading group and the nine original families suggests that this is a moment of reckoning for Ruby that goes to the root of the aspirations represented by its founding. Continuing the theme of official and unofficial histories, there is a contrast between what the men openly discuss as their motivation for raiding the Convent and what Lone and the omniscient narrator describe as the men’s ulterior motives. Superficially, all are driven by the necessity of saving Ruby from moral decay, as represented by the influence of the Convent. Beneath the surface, however, each man has his own questionable motivations. Sargeant Person is swayed by greed; Arnold and Jeff Fleetwood are swayed by anger; Menus is swayed by shame. The lack of speech attribution in this section - it is not clear who is saying what, nor when they are saying it - heightens the sense that rather than thinking for themselves, the men are giving into a herd mentality.
This chapter also reiterates the recurrent idea that the project of Ruby is centrally concerned with women, along with the desire of men to protect and curtail them. Lone is able to predict that Steward resents the Convent because it is outside of his control, but she does not know the degree to which he is motivated by a crucial memory from his past: the memory of the “nineteen Negro ladies” (279). The Convent women, in his mind, “were the degradation of that moment… he could not abide them for… mocking and desecrating the vision that carried him and his brother through a war, that imbued their marriages and strengthened their efforts to build a town where the vision could flourish” (279). The Convent’s unconventional presentation of womanhood - indeed, a womanhood that does not need men - threatens the foundations of Ruby as a place that black men built so they could protect black women from a segregated world, even if Ruby was still a patriarchal world.
As is the case elsewhere in the novel, the question arises of what constitutes good religious practice, and what the will of God might be. According to some interpretations - especially Lone’s - the generosity, openness, and giftedness of the Convent women represents the work of God. According to the strict and punitive interpretations of Christianity practiced in Ruby - as epitomized by Steward and Reverend Pulliam - the Convent women are heathens. These competing interpretations are embodied by religious imagery. Lone’s characterization that the “fangs and the tail are somewhere else. Out yonder all slithery in a house full of women” (276) suggests the snake in the Garden of Eden, a stand-in for sin and temptation. Deek’s comparison of Connie with Salomé paints her as a fatally dangerous temptress, who could have destroyed him the way Salomé demands John the Baptist’s head on a platter.
Lone is certain that God placed her in the position to overhear the men’s conversation because He wishes her to intervene. She steadies herself while driving in the rain by thinking that it “this mission was truly God’s intention, nothing could stop her” (282). Lone’s car stopping in a ditch makes it unclear what God’s will is, or whether God’s will has anything to do with it at all. However, the disappearance of the bodies along with any trace of their violent deaths recalls the assumption of Mary into heaven, and suggests that, in some way or another, the Convent women are blessed.