That night, Walter relates that Lizzie Carr, the young Gleaning Queen, has been detained by Master Jordan, along with Anne Rogers and Kitty Gosse. The youngest and strongest men should be agitating for their return, but Walter believes they’ve fled the village—Brooker Higgs hasn’t been seen in hours, and he spotted the Derby twins walking away with bundles on their backs. None of the villagers have ever felt it safer to be outside the town than within.
Within a day of his arrival, Jordan has already managed to fracture the village’s integrity. Normally, all decisions are made communally, but now people are running away without giving any warning, and others are in captivity without any reason.
Walter doesn’t know which “version of events” to believe. In their confusion, many villagers attribute all the recent wrongs—from the ransacking of the cottages, to Willowjack’s death, to the impending arrival of the sheep—to Mistress Beldam. Even Walter considers the possibility that “she’s brought a curse onto our land.” They’ve told their suspicion to Master Jordan, but instead he’s targeting their women and children.
Previously, the villagers seemed to acknowledge they’d behaved unjustly to Mistress Beldam. However, when they’re again under pressure they return to scapegoating strangers in order to improve their own situation. Moreover, they’re attributing things to her which she can’t possibly have caused, like Jordan’s plans for enclosure.
The one thing of which Walter is certain is that earlier in the afternoon, Lizzie snuck out of the threshing barn, still wearing her gleaning sash, only to be picked up by Jordan’s men, who held her by her braids and questioned her about why she was outside the barn and why she was wearing such an expensive cloth. Unsatisfied with her answers, they marched her away to the manor house.
Just like Mistress Beldam, Lizzie is both distinguished and made vulnerable by wearing something above her station. This is a reminder that Mistress Beldam has much in common with the villagers who revile her; it also shows Jordan and his men operating by the same principles of blind suspicion with which the village treats strangers.
Walter isn’t sure how the other women got involved. He imagined they witnessed Lizzie’s capture and ran out of the barn to defend her, only to be born off to the manor house themselves. Anne’s shouts must have drawn everyone else to the door of the barn to witness the events, and the young men must have decided to leave the village then. Walter doesn’t know the specifics because he’s “not included in village circles” at the moment.
As usual, Walter wasn’t present during the events he’s reconstructing. His imprecise narrative style demonstrates his emotional distance from the rest of the village; it also reflects the confusion everyone must be feeling at this sudden descent into chaos.
Walter is as angry as his neighbors, but they are becoming suspicious and close-mouthed around him, refusing to answer his questions or even converse with him. After a dozen years among them, his “once darker hair is clashing with their blond again,” reminding them that he’s still an outsider, that he didn’t participate in the gleaning, and that he spent the afternoon with Mr. Quill while they were penned in the barn.
The village’s quickness to close ranks against Walter shows how deep their suspicion of strangers runs. In this case, they’re actively working against their own interests, since Walter is the only one who knows what’s going on and could give them valuable information.
Walter imagines that he’s also made enemies by being found in Kitty Gosse’s bed. The villagers who are related to her will see him as disrespectful and those related to Cecily will consider him disloyal, while other men who desired the widow will resent him.
Even though Walter found a sense of closeness and community with Kitty, it actually works to his detriment in the eyes of the village.
From their silence towards him, Walter intuits that if the villagers have to implicate someone to allay Jordan’s wrath, they will choose him, rather than sacrificing a native villager. Walter doesn’t blame them—after all, he’s been keeping secrets and looking after his own interests by seeking employment with Mr. Quill, rather than theirs.
Even though he sees the village turning against him, Walter isn’t angry at all. This reflects his inborn sense of loyalty.
Walter wonders if instead of casting his lot with Mr. Quill, who is after all a disabled man of uncertain fortunes, he should ask Master Kent to employ him again. He can help his old master stand up to Jordan and keep his place in the house. While Walter feels he has many options for the future, he’s gloomy because he knows that any of the village’s happiness, “or at least the lands that nurture it,” will be gone by the time the frost comes.
While Walter occasionally chafes at his restricted life, now that he must leave it behind he’s nostalgic about its many pleasures. Moreover, while he may have many options, he knows his neighbors will be dislodged without anywhere to go, and his strong sense of rootedness in the community makes it difficult to plan only for himself.
While Walter listens, the villagers decide they must “petition” Jordan for the return of the women. They are certain that, as the majority, they will be listened to; Walter worries that this isn’t true, and that the “master always weighs the most” in any dispute. Anyway, the villagers can’t even write enough to make a petition.
The villagers still believe in the sanctity of the informal rights they’ve always enjoyed; it’s only Walter, having lived outside the village, who knows how powerless they truly are under any landlord less sympathetic than Master Kent.
Some of the more hotheaded villagers want to storm the manor house with sticks, but this isn’t a popular idea, given Jordan’s fierce sidemen. Others want to let the drama run its course and trust that Jordan will be reasonable. Finally, it’s decided that two of the men will humbly present themselves at the manor, explain that all the recent troubles are the fault of the newcomers, particularly Mistress Beldam, and ask for the women back in exchange for their help in apprehending her.
Here, the villagers realize that the methods they use to protect themselves from powerless strangers— descending in a mob with sticks— are completely useless against Jordan. The new master’s ability to undermine them reveals the latent weakness in the agrarian system which, until now, has emblematized security and tranquility.
As they’re walking to the manor, they see Mr. Quill in conversation with the young man in the pillory; all the villagers disapprove, seeing this as a sign of Mr. Quill’s disloyalty even though they know they haven’t been just to this strange man. Their feelings of shame are simultaneously the reason why no one curses at him and why no one brings him food or ale. With his kindness, Mr. Quill is showing the villagers what they’ve done wrong, but this won’t make anyone like him.
By openly consorting with the man hanging from the cross, Mr. Quill takes on some of his associations with Jesus Christ. Like Christ, Quill demonstrates a way to behave more bravely and compassionately; also like Christ, he earns the enmity of people who see this as a threat to their own security.
Walter quietly breaks off from the villagers and joins Mr. Quill, as they’ve agreed to search for Mistress Beldam that night. As they settle down to wait in the shadows, Mr. Quill explains that the man in the pillory is her husband, and the dead man was her father. They’ve traveled to the village because their own common ground, not far away, has been converted into a sheep farm. Walter is unhappy to hear that Mistress Beldam, the object of his fascination, is married, and he suspects Mr. Quill is as well. He simultaneously wants to see and dreads seeing her approach the pillory to kiss and care for her husband.
The entire village is accustomed to thinking of the strangers as rootless wanderers, completely unlike themselves. However, Mr. Quill reveals that not only are the strangers a family group, they’re peasants who have faced exactly the same threats in their own village. In light of this, it’s especially ironic that the villagers have behaved so inhospitably to the strangers. Their poverty and homelessness are ominous signs of what awaits the villagers if Jordan succeeds in his plans.
Eventually, all three men hear Mistress Beldam coming. Walter isn’t sure if the husband knows they are crouching near him, or if he will warn her away. However, he only whistles softly to her. Mr. Quill points her out as she emerges; it’s only the second time Walter has seen her, and she’s smaller and “more birdlike” than he remembers her. He wonders if she was really strong enough to drive a metal spike into Willowjack’s head. He wishes he could touch her velvety hair.
Again, Mistress Beldam is described by her similarity to natural elements. This makes her seem harmless and attractive to Walter, but he’s not taking account of the danger and harshness that are as inherent to nature as beauty.
Mistress Beldam carries a bundle of food and a bottle of cordial Walter knows she must have stolen from the village. She kisses her husband and lifts the bottle to his mouth, but when she hears the villagers noisily returning from the manor house she disappears. Mr. Quill runs to the pillory, hides the bottle which she’s dropped, and hurries after the departed woman.
Mistress Beldam’s ability to steal and remain hidden shows she’s much cannier than Walter gives her credit for. Her affection for her husband shows that she’s rooted in strong personal attachments, just as all the villagers are, and heightens the sense of her similarity to them.