That night, Walter sleeps in the Widow Gosse’s bed. They’ve had a longstanding attachment, and he often creeps over to her cottage. Walter doesn’t like to share his own bed with her, because it feels like a betrayal of Cecily, with whom he shared much of his life and for whom he had more than physical feelings. When he feels lonely, he often lies in his bed and reminds himself that Cecily’s body was once there too.
Walter’s attachment to his dead wife is touching, showing the depth of his feelings. At the same time, it showcases the decay at work in his own life. Like the manor house, Walter’s cottage is a monument to a deceased woman, not a site of renewal and propagation.
Kitty Gosse often tells Walter he’s too cautious and educated, and he thinks she’s unintelligent. However, they get along well and their sexual relationship relieves their mutual loneliness. Walter was shocked to discover how voraciously she craves sex; it reminds him that they are both like “forest beasts,” controlled by animal urges. The widow isn’t beautiful; she’s middle-aged, gray-haired, and has all the warts and scars from a hard farmer’s life.
Although Walter describes the desire for sex as an animal urge, he’s not doing so in a pejorative sense. Rather, sex is one way in which the villagers, like the animals around them, participate in the cycles of life and death at play all around them.
Still, Walter often wonders what Kitty sees in him. He doesn’t even know what he looks like these days. Several years ago, he peeked in Lucy Kent’s mirror and could barely believe he was looking at his own face. Now, since Master Kent buried his wife’s mirror with her body, Walter figures his “nearest likeness is two days’ distant.” In the town of his youth, everyone looked in a mirror before going out in the street, and even there they could count on seeing themselves reflected in windows. In the village, almost no one knows what they look like; Walter suspects that the widow is un-self-conscious because she doesn’t quite know she’s lost the bloom of youth.
In this reflection, Walter contrasts the different attitudes towards individuality in large towns and isolated villages like his own. The presence of mirrors means that people are constantly conscious of what they look like, while the lack of mirrors in the village not only prevents vanity but eventually erodes villagers’ awareness of themselves as individuals. While lack of individuality is often viewed as a problem, for Walter it’s comforting to think of himself as an indistinguishable member of a group.
Tonight, Walter doesn’t find much pleasure with Kitty. He’s too busy thinking over and replaying what he heard in the gallery. Master Jordan seems like an “efficient” and sensible man, although “sometimes his sense is colder than an icicle.” When Master Kent relays the story of the strangers, Master Jordan says that his cousin has been too kind, and that the old man deserved to meet his death in the pillory. He says he’ll release the young man in another city when he departs and announces that his servants will throw the old man’s corpse wherever animal corpses are disposed since he “has not earned a place on hallowed ground.”
Master Jordan’s ruthless appraisal of the situation at hand makes clear that he’s a much different leader than Master Kent. While Master Kent constantly ponders his own actions, Master Jordan takes action quickly and always in his own interest. In this way, he’s much like the villagers, who are willing to scapegoat the strangers if it improves things for themselves.
Having dispatched these problems, Master Jordan announces his plans for “Progress and Prosperity.” His plan is no different from the one of which Master Kent spoke at the harvest feast, but Jordan says nothing about “friends and neighbors” or benefits for the village. Rather, he’s open about his desire to streamline the village’s way of life in order to assure a better profit for himself.
Master Jordan emblematizes “progress” in that he can make the village run more efficiently. However, he’s oblivious to the moral ramifications of his plan. Through Jordan, the novel argues that unqualified worship of the ideal of progress leads people to disregard important ethical quandaries.
Jordan will allow Master Kent to stay on in the village, administering his affairs and directing his laborers. At the thought of laborers, Jordan sighs and refers to them as “so many ravens to be fed and satisfied.” He says that no modern person can possibly approve of communal agriculture, “which only benefits the commoners.” While Mr. Quill finishes making his charts, the steward, Mr. Baynham, will build fences and prepare the land for the arrival of sheep in the spring. The trees will be cut down and sold for tinder.
It’s shocking that Master Jordan views the villagers as burdens on the land which has existed solely to sustain them for so long. His conviction that he represents the most rational viewpoint is belied by his transparent greed and utter lack of concern for those who depend on him.
Master Kent speaks up, reminding his cousin that there are sixty villagers who depend on the common land for food. Master Jordan only shrugs, saying that Mr. Baynham will employ the people he needs, but “we will sadly need to make economies.” When Mr. Quill points out that Jordan won’t have to economize personally, he smiles and retorts that he has charitable intentions toward the village. He will build a church and employ a priest, bringing a “Holy Shepherd” along with his sheep. It will have a steeple taller than the felled trees, and a bell that can summon people to prayer and to work.
The novel has long characterized organized religion as irrelevant to the village, but in Jordan’s service it emerges as overtly harmful. While rituals like the Gleaning Ceremony emphasize equality and common dependence on the land, Jordan’s envisioned church emphasizes both man’s dominance over the land by replacing the trees and the peasant’s servitude to the landlord by ordering them to work every day.
Master Jordan quips that it’s Mr. Earle who doesn’t have to make economies, since he’s disabled and only fit for light work. Readily, Mr. Quill acknowledges his deformity, saying “the devil himself concocted me in his cracked jar.” To Walter, it sounds like an oft-recited speech, which Mr. Quill must have used before to deflect mockery.
Even though Mr. Quill is morally superior to Master Jordan, he has to defend himself from accusations of weakness because of his disability. Importantly, his glib remarks about the devil will be turned against him later.
Now, Walter is tempted to tell Kitty everything he’s heard. It’s lonely to be the only one who knows what’s in store for the village, and that Master Kent and all the villagers are now “displaced.” However, he wants to make plans for his own survival before all his neighbors become aware of the news. He thinks of Mistress Beldam spending the night in the forest, and then he and Kitty make love again. Walter imagines that, in the anxiety of the day’s events, everyone in the village is doing the same thing, turning to each other to find comfort in “sowing seed.”
Walter revolts against being distinguished from the other villagers, even if it’s only through the knowledge he has. However, he also understands that, in the face of future upheaval, he needs to start thinking for himself again. While individual development is a positive occurrence in many novels, here it’s a negative byproduct of the village’s demise.