Now there are only four people in the village: Walter, Mistress Beldam, her husband, and Mr. Quill. Walter plans to search for him the next day, but hopes he’s had the wisdom to flee. However, it seems more likely that Mr. Quill has bravely stayed on to help those left behind. Walter wonders if Master Kent found a way to warn him, but imagines he would have told Walter if this was the case.
For Walter, it’s odd to think that people must flee the village, which has always represented safety to him. Ironically, although the villagers have always been hostile to strangers, the only people safe here now are outsiders.
In his nightmarish imaginings, Walter sees Mr. Quill melting in flames, hanged by the servants, or cudgeled by the angry villagers and left for the pigs to eat. For the matter, the pigs could easily have eaten Mistress Beldam as well, since Walter hasn’t seen her for two days. On the other hand, Mistress Beldam could have lured Mr. Quill to her and killed him, angry and grieving over her father’s death.
Walter’s imaginings mirror his new and disconcerting feelings of danger within the village. Most troubling, he doesn’t even know if the remaining people in the village—namely, Mistress Beldam—are potential friends or deadly foes.
Although he’s not supposed to, Walter spends the night in the manor house. He sees the bloody sheets where the groom lay and the room where the sidemen slept and tortured the women. Walter takes Master Jordan’s bed, which is covered in carpets. When he lies down on this makeshift nest, he realizes Master Jordan has been using Mistress Beldam’s shawl as a pillow. Walter wraps it around him, imagining he’s sleeping next to the owner herself. After a long night, he awakens with a sense of clarity about what he ought to do: he must plow the field. Although it’s still dark, Walter can’t sleep anymore, so he takes Mistress Beldam’s shawl outside, intending to place it by the pillory, where she’ll find it.
While Jordan’s arrival tightens class barriers for most people, Walter experiences unexpected mobility, promoted into Master Jordan’s service and in charge of the village. However, his inability to sleep well in the manor house and his desire to complete farming tasks is a rejection of this mobility—not out of fear of overstepping himself, but because his life as a peasant in the village provided more fulfillment than servitude to Jordan ever could.
Once outside, Walter feels too nervous to walk to the pillory and instead places the shawl on a bench in the courtyard. Back in bed, he hears footsteps that sound human, and when he leaves the manor again after dawn he finds that the shawl is gone. It seems to Walter that Mistress Beldam “has been roaming like a living ghost throughout our lanes,” not needing to sleep. She must have known that Walter was sleeping in the manor house, and perhaps had even seen him leave her shawl outside.
Walter has often wandered at night, and never been nervous before. His new fear shows that his feelings of security in the village depended on the existence of the village community. Although the land provided for the community’s existence, the community also facilitated Walter’s close relationship with the land.
Walter thought that he’d be happy to remain in the village, despite his shame at submitting to Jordan’s authority. However, this morning he feels haunted and fearful, and wonders if he should have left before. He thinks of packing up and leaving this morning, but then remembers Master Kent’s strange farewell and knows he has unfinished work in the village.
Walter’s feeling of being “haunted” shows how connected he still feels to the village community. Moreover, it suggests an implicit desire to retreat into the village’s pagan rituals, which allowed for the supernatural, rather than function along Jordan’s rational but inhumane principles.
Walter gets dressed, arms himself with an old sword, and finds the key to the pillory. As he approaches the young man, Walter smiles in reassurance, but the man doesn’t respond. Despite the “mild” punishment he’s endured, he’s pale and weak. Walter tells him that he’s been told to wait until the end of the week but wants to free him now. The man doesn’t express any gratitude and refuses to tell him his name.
Walter extends more sympathy to the young man than anyone else, but he still falls short. That the young man has been forced to watch his father-in-law die and then to grieve for him while trapped in a torture device is a human tragedy that no one, not even Walter, fully acknowledges or begins to atone for.
Walter says that if the young man helps him with farming for a day, he will free him and allow him to take anything he wants from the cottages when he leaves. The man agrees, and Walter clumsily releases him, after which the man collapses. Even though the man has good reason to be angry, Walter trusts him and leaves him to recover while he fetches some bread and water. Having received hospitality from Walter, the man seems better disposed toward him and Walter gives him the sword as a display of trust.
Here, Walter models the behavior that the village should have displayed when the strangers first arrived. By peacefully extending and receiving hospitality, the two men form a stark contrast to the mutual suspicion with which their two groups initially treated each other.
Walter harnesses the two remaining oxen. Next, he goes to the ramshackle tool barn, which he loves because when he first arrived, he was always sent here to fetch tools, and everyone made a joke of his habit of bringing the wrong ones. He removes the plow from the barn and finds the young man watching him. Without a greeting, the man says, “nose before ear,” an old memory device that helps people put the plow parts together. Walter knows how to assemble the plow is surprised that the man has intuited he’s not a native countryman. Moreover, the phrase also functions as an old proverb saying that “life should be allowed to proceed in its natural and logical order.”
The young man’s familiarity with the plow shows how similar he is to Walter; he probably grew up in a village just like this one, which suffered the same fate not long before. As the proverb he quotes suggest, both he and Walter led lives defined by adherence to the cycles of nature. Their mutual displacement is a reminder that the village’s fate is part of a larger process of turning away from the land in the name of modernity.
From his ease with the machine, Walter can tell the young man was once a plowman. Together, they set off toward the barley field, which is already sprouting weeds. The barley stubble remains, however, showing that a harvest has recently occurred. It seems like ages since Mr. Quill named the Gleaning Queen and Master Kent made his customary speech. Walter remembers that Master Kent amended his speech, no longer promising that the harvests would continue year after year. Now, he feels he’s contradicting his master’s resignation.
It’s important to remember that the events of the novel have occurred in a short time—it hasn’t even been a week since the strangers first arrived. This realization contrasts the enduring nature of the land with the extreme vulnerability of the society it supported.
Walter leads the oxen while the young man guides the plow. His face seems “passionate,” and Walter can tell plowing is meaningful for him too; he remembers that this man was also exiled from his own common ground.
In a sense, Walter and the young man are working to reestablish the “common ground” they’ve both lost to Jordan and men like him.
In order to plow, the men must guide the oxen in a straight line. It’s a huge task, and would normally require twenty men, but Walter only intends to plough one good furrow. He tells the young man that this endeavor will be “to all our advantages,” but his companion remains silent. Still, Walter is so excited that he tells the man all about Cecily, his close relationship with Master Kent, and his new respect for Mr. Quill. He even talks about oxen, which he prefers to helpless sheep.
It’s important that Walter recycles Master Kent’s phrase from the gleaning ceremony to describe the task at hand. While Master Kent wishfully imagined a scenario in which enclosure actually helped the peasants, Walter now knows that it’s actually the ancient agrarian system that provides benefits, however modest, to everyone.
When they have finished plowing, Walter sows the winter wheat alone. Normally, he would leave the plowed soil for a week, but he doesn’t have time. He scatters the seed without delay, accomplishing his “countrymen’s revenge.”
Describing the planting as an act of “revenge” reaffirms the sense of power Walter derives from his relationship with the land, even if that relationship is dissolving.
As Walter finishes the task, the light begins to die. The sunlight falls onto the common fields, “as if searching for something” and not wanting to leave. After a few moments, the sun sets and the field is black. Walter feels like he’s walking through a chilly cathedral until a sudden downpour drenches him, causing the earth to stick to his feet. Walter looks around for the young man, but he can’t see him and assumes he’s gone to sleep in one of the cottages, perhaps reunited with Mistress Beldam.
It’s interesting that Walter compares the landscape to a cathedral here. In doing so, he imbues the land with a special holiness. His positive use of Christian imagery shows that the novel doesn’t necessarily disapprove of religion in general, but rather condemns religious dogma when it’s used for self-interested purposes.
Thinking of the husband and wife together, Walter feels suddenly lonely. However, the feeling is strangely exciting for him; he’s happy to know that his plowing is accomplished, and the weather is a reminder that the soil and the seasons will last forever.