In the morning, Anne Rogers barges in Kitty’s cottage to announce that Willowjack has been found dead, impaled through the head with a sharp piece of metal. Anne surmises that it must have been a strong man, and someone who knew the horse, as Willowjack would never have allowed a stranger to approach her. Walter believes that Anne suspects Abel Saxton, a blacksmith.
This second crime recalls the fires with which the novel opened. However, since a very different man is now in charge of the village, the response to this crime will be an important contrast between the village’s traditional practices and Jordan’s new ideas.
Walter himself isn’t sure who’s responsible. He’s suspicious of Master Jordan’s groom, who seems easily angered, but it could also be Brooker Higgs or the Derby twins, impetuous young men who may have heard of Jordan’s new plans and, with no wives to make love to, taken out their anxiety on the horse. However, Walter discards this notion, knowing that the young men love the horse and are too chastened from their previous wrongdoings to commit another crime. It could even be Walter’s neighbor, John Carr, the village slaughterman, who is adept with animals.
Regardless of who is responsible, the certain existence of one individual who must be apprehended turns the villagers against each other, forcing them to isolate and blame individuals in order to save themselves. Just as Walter’s individual development is presented negatively, when the villagers have to think for themselves rather than as a group, they are distressed and confused.
Anne Rogers leaves, and Walter imagines she’s busy telling the other villagers that she found him in Kitty’s bed. While preparing porridge, Kitty suggests that it’s the ghost of the old man who killed the horse. Trying to dismiss this notion in terms she’ll understand, Walter points out he’s too short to reach Willowjack’s head, but Kitty points out the horse would have been lying down and sleeping. Walter is struck by this; if the horse was lying down, then it wouldn’t have required much strength to kill her, and even a woman or child could be suspected of the crime.
While Kitty’s irrationality is amusing, she leads Walter to an important conclusion and shows him that anyone in the village can be blamed for the crime. In this sense, every villager is now subject to the suspicion and scrutiny that they inflicted on the strangers at the beginning of the novel.
Master Jordan gathers everyone and informs them they must stay within the barn while his men search the cottages, looking for bloody clothes. He doesn’t give his name or any reasons for his authority, but in the face of his fine clothes and ruthless servants the villagers don’t dare to ask for justification.
Even though Master Jordan does have legal authority, his power doesn’t rest on that, but rather on his potential to inflict violence. His “progressive” rule is actually more brutal and primitive than Master Kent’s.
Master Jordan says that the village is too far from “ordinance and regulation,” and that they will have to learn to behave better by seeing the person responsible for Willowjack’s death hanging, and his body discarded in the Bottom. Walter notices that Brooker Higgs and the Derby twins look terrified. Master Kent says nothing, and all the villagers can tell he’s no longer in charge.
The village’s previous system of conflict resolution and minimal punishment only worked when it was undisturbed by strangers and everyone was equally committed to the village’s survival. In this sense, the village were right to be wary of strangers like Master Jordan, who clearly don’t have their common interests at heart.
After the gathering, Master Kent relates his grievances to Walter. Jordan wanted to sell Willowjack’s carcass to grease makers, and it was only after prolonged argument that he saved his beloved horse. He tells Walter to hold his tongue among the villagers; Master Kent wants to secure some benefits for the villagers and protect some of the common ground before Jordan’s sheep arrive.
Master Kent’s advocacy for the villagers shows his inherent decency. However, by keeping the villagers in the dark, he unintentionally makes them more vulnerable to Jordan and less able to organize against him.
Walter imagines Master Kent has been planning his negotiations with Jordan long before the new master arrived or anyone knew of his plans. However, everything seems to have gone wrong already. Walter thinks back on the strangers with their raised bows and Mistress Beldam, still at large; he now sees these events as evidence that something is fundamentally wrong in the village. Since Jordan is within earshot, Master Kent can’t say much, but his “eloquent” shrug tells Walter how sympathetic and helpless he feels.
Even though the strangers’ arrival and Master Jordan’s power grab aren’t explicitly linked, to Walter they both represent outside forces negatively interfering in village life. It’s especially troubling that Master Kent, who has been a figure of authority to Walter all his life, has suddenly lost all his power.
Walter is required to guide Jordan’s servants through the villages while they ransack the different cottages. He hasn’t been inside many of them, and in the presence of outsiders he realizes how cramped and spare the dwellings are. When they reach his neighbor John Carr’s house, Walter can’t stand to watch them search ands steps outside. When they reach his own house, a scrap of bloody cloth raises Master Jordan’s suspicions until Master Kent explains that it’s a bandage from Walter’s hands, damaged in his loyal attempt to preserve the nobleman’s hay.
Even though he didn’t choose it, Walter’s position as the guide to unwelcome intruders differentiates him even further from his neighbors. At the same time, he’s briefly a figure of suspicion to Master Jordan and his men, showing his inability to fully belong to either camp.
Walter rests while the men check search various outbuildings for bloody cloth. Inspecting the building where Cecily grew up, Master Jordan discovers a bloodstained piece of cloth, which Walter and Master Kent immediately recognize as Mistress Beldam’s shawl. Jordan demands that Walter identify the shawl’s owner but he says it doesn’t belong to any of the neighbors, trying to stall for time.
It’s interesting that the shawl was found in Cecily’s childhood home. This coincidence links Mistress Beldam to Walter’s wife—in fact, he has the same sense of loyalty towards both women, unwilling to implicate Mistress Beldam even if doing so is the only way to save himself.
Any man besides Master Kent would be angry at a woman who killed his beloved horse; however, he seems neither surprised nor angry at this evident demonstration of Mistress Beldam’s guilt. While it’s senseless to take out anger on a horse, she was distraught from her father’s death. Master Kent doesn’t identify her as the owner of the shawl, but instead lies that the shawl belonged to his wife, Lucy. He suggests that a vagrant stole the shawl, attempted to steal Willowjack, killed her when he was unable to control her, and discarded the bloody cloth in the cottage.
By outright lying to his cousin, Master Kent establishes himself as completely loyal to the villagers. At the same time, Mistress Beldam reveals herself as a highly enigmatic figure. While the villagers saw in her hope for new fertility, she now emerges as defined by anger and grief and determined to achieve revenge, even if she can’t do so in any meaningful or rational way.
Master Jordan considers this possibility. It makes sense, but Walter knows he wants to hang someone in order to demonstrate his authority over the village and induce everyone to comply with his plans. Moreover, if no one in the village is to blame, his threats and investigations will begin to seem silly.
Master Jordan conducts a fairly rational investigation, but his motives make a mockery of his claims to represent justice, showing that modern or innovative tactics are useless if they’re not grounded in sound ethics.
Jordan questions Master Kent about the younger stranger, still imprisoned in the pillory. Affecting to be concerned that the man has insulted his cousin and threatened to murder him, he says “with a heavy heart” that he must question the man and try him for sedition and incitement. He sighs and looks around, and it’s clear to Walter that he’s frustrated by the slow and overly forgiving rhythm of the village.
Just as the villagers did at the beginning of the novel, Jordan is attempting to pin a crime on an innocent stranger, solely to advance his own objectives.
Master Jordan paces in a circle “like a preacher.” Looking around the land, he laughs and says, “nothing but sheep.” Walter knows that the joke comes at the villagers’ expense, mocking their meek and fearful natures.
Equating Jordan’s predatory pacing with the movements of a preacher, the novel further condemns the organized religion he wants to introduce. Jordan also makes one of the many comparisons between villagers and sheep, showing how their way of life, which once seemed proud and dignified, now appears silly through his profit-oriented eyes.