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When Paul D returns to the house, he shows Sethe the clipping and waits for an explanation. She tells how her oldest girl was already crawling when she arrived at 124 with the new baby. From the very first day, Sethe had a hard time keeping the child away from the stairs, and she was always afraid she was going to hurt herself. She then tells Paul D about how Howard did not lift his head until he was nine months old. She is convinced that it was from lack of food, for the only thing she knew to feed him as a baby was milk.
As Sethe talks, Paul D sits at the table and watches her as she moves in and out of view. He listens as she discusses the difficulties of child rearing and the fact that she never had anyone to give her advice or to talk to about her children. In a matter of fact manner, she explains the difficulty of trying to raise children while working, especially since she had little or no assistance. But she cared enough about her children to get them all out of Sweet Home and away from slavery - and she did it on her own, without Halle’s help. It is clear that she is trying to explain why she killed her daughter.
Sethe then explains how she loved her children more after she got them and herself to freedom. At Sweet Home, she had not been able to love them properly, for they were the property of someone else. When she came home to Baby Suggs and her children, she felt she could finally love freely and without fear. Paul D understands what Sethe is saying. When he had been in Alfred, Georgia, he had listened to the doves, but felt he had no right to enjoy them because everything was owned by the men with the guns. Paul D understands Sethe's desire to be in a place where she can love without permission. For Paul D, "that was freedom."
Sethe realizes that she is circling around the truth without being able to get to the point. She does not want to tell Paul D what happened. She was working in the garden when she saw the horsemen. She immediately recognized Schoolteacher's hat and panicked. All she could think or say was “no” over and over again. She quickly "collected every bit of life she had made, all the parts of her that were precious and fine and beautiful, and carried, pushed, dragged them through the veil, out, away, over there where no one could hurt them." She wanted to put her babies where they would be safe and free from slavery.
Finally accepting that Sethe has really murdered her daughter, Paul D hears a roaring in his head. He is sick and confused. He had thought he had gotten rid of the ghosts at 124 Bluestone and made it a safe and comfortable place to be. He had thought Sethe was like Halle -- obedient, shy, and hard working. Suddenly, however, he does not know the woman in front of him; and it is not so much what Sethe has done, but how she sees it that scares him.
Paul D tells her that her plan did not work, for her children were not safe. She replies that it did work because her children are not at Sweet Home or with Schoolteacher. Paul D tells her that there are worse places to be. He then tells Sethe she did wrong and reminds her, "You got two feet, Sethe, not four." His words cut Sethe to the core; and as a result, "a forest sprang up between them; trackless and quiet." Paul D later wonders what made him say such a cruel thing to her. After all, he was also filled with shame because of his cold-house secret.
As Paul D prepares to leave, he looks up the stairs and sees Beloved watching. At the door, he tells Sethe to put his supper plate aside because he will be late. Sethe thinks it is sweet of him to think saying goodbye would break her. She says so long, believing Paul D is gone forever.