Walter sees Master Jordan’s groom prowling around the village. He imagines the man feels dissatisfied, since as a lesser servant he had to guard Master Kent during the night and played no part in the torture. Now he must be eager to find Mistress Beldam, as she’s a “free-roaming sorceress to lay his hands upon.”
For Jordan’s servants, satisfaction and fulfillment come not from any meaningful work, but from abusing others. Jordan’s vision of progress a world dominated by brute power, rather than organized around communities.
The groom spots Walter and asks if he knows anything about the whereabouts of Mistress Beldam. From his swaggering demeanor, Walter knows the man doesn’t understand how much the villagers hate everyone associated with Master Jordan. On any other day, they’d be too busy working to bother with him, but with the women not returned and the Derby twins and Brooker Higgs still gone, everyone is tense and upset, and no one has picked up their tools. Walter himself has nothing to do, since Mr. Quill is in hiding.
The collective idleness shows how much the community has fractured in the few days since Jordan arrived. While their model of life was strong enough to survive centuries while undisturbed, it’s remarkably vulnerable in the face of the new attacks Jordan brings.
The villagers’ idleness shows that “already our village fabric is unraveling.” They haven’t bothered to care for the harvested barley or the cattle, or to keep the rats away from the crops. Walter has heard that they’re holding a meeting at noon, but he knows he’ll be unwelcome there.
By this point, Walter is almost as much a stranger to the village as the groom is. It’s remarkable that such a transition can occur in just a few days.
The groom is a small man, able to hurt a woman but not a grown man, like Gervase Carr, Lizzie’s father, who approaches and asks roughly where his daughter is. Thinking himself protected by his attachment to Master Jordan, the groom responds scornfully, telling him that she’s likely to burn with the other women. Lizzie’s mother grabs him, Gervase throws the first punch, and all the other villagers gather and join in, beating the groom. In the tumult Walter falls to the ground and gets kicked in the face; he curls onto his side and waits for the attack to end.
While the villagers are certainly justified in their anger, the sudden attack is a disconcerting episode of mob behavior, showing their inability to respond rationally to new challenges. It’s important that Walter gets caught in the beating; while they don’t hit him intentionally, their lack of concern shows that they’ve stopped thinking of him as a member of the community.
One of the men strikes the groom with a pruning blade, and the rush of blood makes the villagers realize how much they’ve hurt the man and how much trouble they’ll face when he reports the incident to his master. Everyone steps back and scatters, leaving Walter and the groom on the ground. The groom is alive, but barely moving. Walter knows no one in the village is safe from the reprisals that will follow this attack.
While the villagers can harm homeless strangers without any punishment, things are much different when it come to the servant of a powerful man like Jordan. The contrast shows how blame and punishments don’t follow an objective idea of justice, but favor those who have power and harm those who are already vulnerable.
In the afternoon, he sees the Carrs and the Saxtons, the two families who attacked the groom first, leave the village quickly. Walter’s old friend, John Carr, barely looks at him as he leaves. Walter knows they’re not abandoning Lizzie, but trying to reach safety outside the village, where they can regroup and plan how to rescue her. Soon, the other families leave, knowing that Mr. Baynham will soon arrive with more men to enforce his aims and clear the village by force. Only Walter remains.
The villagers leave their homes in the same mute concord with which they conduct the harvest. However, this time Walter isn’t included in their plans. Therefore, their unity isn’t comforting now, but a sad reminder of Walter’s exclusion from their midst.
Walter knows it’s difficult for everyone to leave. The families who were less involved in the beating worry about the loss of their livestock, and the pain of parting with the land on which they’ve lived “since Adam’s time.” They don’t want to melt into the large towns where they will be anonymous and without community. However, as people who have lived off a harsh land their entire life, they’re resilient and practical, and know they only face death by staying in the village.
Walter knows that his neighbors won’t easily find a safe haven outside the village; rather, they’ll probably encounter unscrupulous men like the ones who accompany Jordan, and they’ll be unable to recreate their insular community in a larger town.
Most of the families leave via the wide lane, in order to take some livestock or a wagon with them. They will end up among the “restless, paler people of the towns.” Only the Carrs and the Saxtons set out into the forest, into land that “might not have seen a human face before.” This means they’ll be safer from pursuit by Jordan’s men. Walter hopes they reach another village in a few days, where they can build and hut and fire and hope the inhabitants respect the custom that allows them to stay.
There’s a tragic irony in seeing the village families reduced to the same plight as the Beldams when they first arrived in the village. Walter’s implicit reference to the strangers points out that the villagers will likely encounter the same hostility that they themselves earlier displayed. With the cycle of their agricultural life ended, the villagers are entering into a new cycle of dispossession and homelessness.
That night, Walter lies in Kitty Gosse’s bed. Even though he was never very attached to her, he’s both comforted by being in her cottage and anxious at the thought of her ongoing imprisonment. He doesn’t want to stay in his own cottage in case Jordan’s men come looking for him. Now that the villagers have left, he could sleep wherever he wants, but he’s keeping to his accustomed spaces in a display of loyalty that his neighbors will never see. He’s still worried that he will be blamed for everything.
Even though the villagers have abandoned him and he no longer has a place in their community, Walter still considers himself bound to the norms he’s observed for the past dozen years. For him, acting as an individual isn’t liberating but instead a terrifying prospect.
On the other hand, Master Kent has told Walter that Master Jordan doesn’t suspect him, and on the contrary considers him a man he can “rely upon.” This knowledge comforts Walter but also makes him ashamed. Walter imagines that Jordan sees that he’s not a true villager.
Although Walter’s status as an individual, rather than a member of the group, saves him from blame, it’s hurtful that everyone can so easily disregard the village identity he’s constructed over the years.
Walter sleeps fitfully all night. In his dreams, he’s tormented by “demons” who say that he’s Jordan’s servant now, and that worse things are coming for him. He also dreams that his neighbors burst into the cottage and kill him. Outside the cottage, the wind blows and the abandoned livestock make noise.
If anything, Walter’s neighbors should feel bad about their treatment of him. The feelings of guilt that plague Walter show how much he buys into the village’s fear of outsiders, even when the outsider happens to be him.
Walter is also worried about Mr. Quill. He doesn’t want him to be killed, and he hopes he’s warned Mistress Beldam, but at the same time he’s vaguely jealous that Mr. Quill might have caught up with the fascinating woman and might be spending the night with her right now.
It’s disturbing that there’s been no sign of Mr. Quill for so long. For Walter, it’s especially hurtful that he might have found companionship with the strange woman and left his friend alone.
Besides the women imprisoned in the manor house, there’s no one left in the village who was born in the area. The only people left are Walter, Jordan and his men, and Mr. Quill and the strangers.
Despite the village’s rampant hostility towards strangers, outsiders have quickly vanquished them. The villager’s hurried exit means the collapse of the cyclical agrarian lifestyle that could only be maintained by people with strong roots in the land.
Walter knows he has to concentrate on something in order to fall asleep. He closes his eyes and dreams he’s in the barn, threshing the barley crop. He knows his neighbors will be proud of him for carrying out this task on his own.
In order to comfort himself, Walter imagines restoring the village that which have been disrupted. Not only is the work itself satisfying, it allows him to imagine himself as a valuable member of the community again.