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The narrator opens with the idea that some people are born monsters. While some are monstrous physically, others are monstrous morally. Cathy Ames was a moral monster. Although she was born with an innocent face and retained a child’s figure all her life, she learned at an early age that sexuality holds a magnetic power, which she used to manipulate others. She also learned to lie expertly, never getting caught. Since Cathy was an only child, her mother did not suspect her strangeness, even though her father judged her to be different.
One spring morning, Mrs. Ames heard a giggle in the carriage house at the back of the house. She went to the door and flung it open. Cathy lay on the ground tied up by the hands, her clothing bunched up around her waist. Two boys were kneeling over her. Cathy refused to talk about the incident. A doctor examined her and found nothing had been done to harm her, but he told Mrs. Ames something could have happened if she had not come upon them at the moment she did. Mrs. Ames got the town in an uproar over the incident, and the boys were severely whipped and sent to a house of correction. They swore their innocence, saying that they had not tied her hands, but no one believed them.
Mr. Ames was suspicious about Cathy always finding things, like purses and money; but he remained silent. When Cathy found a silver cross with red stones, her father advertised it in the Lost and Found of the newspaper, but no one ever claimed it.
Cathy was a pretty girl and a good student. She finished the eight grades of grammar school with a good record and expressed a desire to go to high school. Her parents were pleased by her choice, for they had few funds to provide Cathy with a dowry for marriage.
James Grew, the Latin teacher at Cathy’s high school, had flunked out of divinity school; but he wanted to be readmitted. When he was not accepted, he became dejected and depressed and often wandered in the hills. He claimed he was ill so he would not have to teach. One night Grew came to see Mr. Ames, but he would not speak to him. He told the teacher to come and see him the next day at the tannery. When Mrs. Ames asked who was at the door, her husband lied and said it was some drunk.
The next morning, Grew’s body was found in the church. He had shot himself in the head. Mrs. Ames quizzed her husband about the drunken man at the door and asked if it was perhaps Mr. Grew. When Mr. Ames insisted it was a stranger, Cathy smiled. She then told her mother that supposedly Mr. Grew had problems in Boston.
After her sixteenth birthday, Cathy changed so much that her mother felt like she was a stranger. One morning when her mother called her, she refused to get up and go to school. When her mother insisted that she get up, Cathy would not budge. Since she was reading Alice in Wonderland, Cathy told her mother she could get so small that her mother would not be able to see or find her. That night, Mr. Ames lectured Cathy, but he could tell his words were having no effect on her.
The next morning Cathy was not in her room, as expected. Mr. Ames checked all around town for her and found out from the railroad station manager that she had taken a train to Boston. He followed her to Boston, located her, and brought her back home the same night. Mrs. Ames was so upset with her daughter that she insisted that her husband beat Cathy. He obeyed, but when Cathy cried out and begged for him to stop, he lessened the severity of his blows. After the beating, Cathy seemed contrite. Mr. Ames decided that she needed more discipline.