When the storm has subsided, Walter leaves Kitty’s cottage to look for the young man and Mistress Beldam, thinking that they should be grateful to him and welcome his company. They must be sleeping indoors in one of the abandoned buildings. As he searches, he mistakes moonlight for Mistress Beldam’s shawl several times. He’s both sad and relieved not to find them, since he might interrupt them making love, and he neither wants to interrupt them nor feel left out.
Walter’s search for the Beldams, which will occupy the next several chapters, reflects his desperate search for a new community after his is disbanded. In this respect, it’s eerily similar to the Beldams original quest for inclusion when they arrived in the village at the beginning of the novel.
Back in Kitty’s cottage, Walter takes advantage of her large supply of ale. He rarely drinks, but since he’s alone he sees no reason to stay sober. The first two pots make him cheer up, while the next two inspire fantasies: he imagines his friends and neighbors arriving at the cottage door. Lining up the pots on the bed, he designates one as Mr. Quill, one as Kitty, one as John, another as Master Kent, two more for the young man and Mistress Beldam, and the last as Cecily. In his imagination, all of them are proud of him and repent their earlier suspicions.
Normally, village life doesn’t leave enough idle time for its inhabitants to descend into bad habits like drunkenness. That Walter does so now is a reflection of his despair at the collapse of the community, and a demonstration of the ways in which strong communities enforce positive behavior and norms.
After several more pots, Walter becomes angry and sad. The final pot makes him feel sick, and he leaves the cottage to vomit and to listen for any human sounds. Having sobered up slightly, he no longer feels like a “hero,” and when he returns inside he imagines his visitors mocking him. They tell him that his revenge is pitiful and demonstrates that he’s a timid townsman, not a real farmer. Walter falls asleep and dreams that he’s knocking on doors and no one answers. In the dream, Mistress Beldam gags him with her shawl and strikes him with a metal prong, after which all the other villagers attack him. Even Cecily participates, telling him he hasn’t “done enough.”
Walter still seeks the approval of his community, if only imaginatively, which shows how reluctant he is to begin approaching life as an individual. His dreams also reflect his new sense of powerlessness. Before Jordan arrived, he felt calm and secure in his place within the village, but now he feels vulnerable to attack both from overt enemies, like the new master, and people he’s always considered friends and family.
In the morning, Walter wakes up with a terrible hangover, and sees a plume of smoke rising from the manor house chimney, which means the young man and Mistress Beldam have spent the night there. Although it’s logical that a young couple will be curious about a noble house, he feels it’s improper. After all, he slept in Kitty’s cottage because he didn’t feel right taking Master Jordan’s bed. He imagines they’ve lit the fire in the kitchen, probably using furniture as fuel to cook their first meal. He decides to stay away from them he feels sick and they’re not his responsibility.
Although Walter and the Beldams are in the same predicament of losing their land, their actions show the latter two are not motivated by loyalty toward the village as Walter is. Their conflicting loyalties are an obstacle to the friendship Walter hopes to develop with them, but he doesn’t acknowledge this yet.
Instead, Walter walks to the woods to search for Mr. Quill. He passes by the Bottom, hoping he won’t find Mr. Quill’s body among the animal corpses. He sees a small monument of stones, which Mistress Beldam must have constructed for her father. Cupping his hands, Walter calls to Mr. Quill several times; while he startles the birds, his friend doesn’t emerge from the woods.
Although Master Jordan refused to bury the old man in the common graveyard, Mistress Beldam has still made a memorial to her father. Like the rituals which dominated village life, her cairn is a response to conventional religious practices which fail to address her circumstances.
On his way back to the village, Walter finds fairy cap mushrooms growing next to a hedge. It seems like ages ago that he saw the Derby twins and Brooker Higgs carrying a sack of the same mushrooms. If not for their nighttime expedition, there would have been no fire, no men in the pillory, no slaughter of Willowjack, and none of the disasters that followed. To Walter, the fairy caps are to blame for everything, even though Walter knows that nothing would have prevented Master Jordan from arriving and disrupting the village life. Still, the mushrooms have “set our lives alight.”
Here, Walter’s reasoning is profoundly faulty; after all, whether or not the Derby twins set a fire, Master Jordan would still have contrived to dispossess the villagers. His train of thought shows that he can’t really conceive of forces operating outside the village and affecting its fate. To him, only events that occur within the village are truly real.
Hungover and lacking his normal judgment, Walter bends to touch the mushrooms and feels them suddenly take hold of him. He smells the mushrooms to see if they are poisonous and eats them without hesitating. They taste disgusting, but Walter swallows them quickly, not wanting to “dither” like a townsman. Then he stretches out on ground to wait for them to take effect.
In eating the mushrooms, Walter is reenacting the young men’s actions at the beginning of the novel. While his behavior makes him part of a cycle, this is one of despair and confusion, not regeneration.
Walter expects to hallucinate lights and colors, as he did when he tried the mushrooms as a young man. However, he experiences a sense of “paralyzing dread” wonders if he’s actually eaten poisonous mushrooms. He tries to stand up, but he’s too unsteady, and he imagines the mushrooms want him to stay on the ground.
Walter’s flirtation with poisoning himself is a reminder that nature isn’t a uniformly benevolent provider to humans. Normally, the villagers are astute about navigating its dangers, but as he’s about to be driven off the land Walter behaves more recklessly toward it.
Walter doesn’t remember what happened during the rest of the day. He knows he must have exerted himself, because he’s tired and aching. He recalls “hugging” animals and tumbling through the forest, at one point lying on the ground and feeling like a wheat seed waiting to be buried by the plow.
In order to forestall his inevitable departure from the land, Walter seems to be attempting to actually become a part of it.
As the mushrooms wear off, it seems that a “twin” comes to help Walter, helping him stand up and regain control of his body. Then Walter walks the perimeter of the village, freeing the animals, saying farewell to his favorite spots, and closing all the cottage doors. He passes the church ground and spends some time at the spot where Cecily is buried. He feels heavy like an ox, but simultaneously has the sense that he’s flying, viewing the land as Mr. Quill presents it in his sketches, as a beautiful but unreal drawing.
It remains unclear if anyone (it would have to be the Beldams) actually helped Walter. More likely, he invented the “twin” out of an extreme aversion to being alone. Moreover, his feeling of flying over the land and seeing it as Mr. Quill does reflects his growing conception of himself as apart from the land, rather than existing with it.
Now, Walter stands alone in the manor house courtyard, not knowing how he arrived there. Someone has packed two bags for him, and he wonders who it was. Inside is everything he needs in order to leave the village, including a silver spoon that Master Kent gave him on his wedding day. He’s even wearing his walking boots and equipped with a stick.
That all his possessions (even his silver spoon) have made it into the bag suggests Walter packed it himself. He knows he has to leave the village but doesn’t want to admit the unpleasant reality to himself.