Chapter 7 Summary
All day, Asta’s son hides in the woods. Searching men pass him several times—twice so close that he can almost touch them. On one of these occasions, Asta’s son is hiding up a tree when two men named Matthew and Luke stop beneath it. Asta’s son knows them as he knows everyone in Stromwell. They are both honest men, but he does not dare speak to them because he is not sure what they would do.
Leaning against the base of the tree, Matthew says musingly that Asta’s son is probably far away by now. Apparently Aycliffe is claiming that the boy went mad after his mother’s death, stole money from the manor house, and fled. Matthew asks whether Luke believes this story. Luke replies:
Ah, Matthew, I’m sure marvelous things happen…But no, by the true cross, I don’t believe he did such a thing.
Matthew readily agrees, but this does not help Asta’s son. What John Aycliffe says is the law in Stromwell, and both Matthew and Luke say that they must follow orders. Asta's son remains silent, absorbing the news that the law considers him guilty of a terrible crime.
Continuing their conversation, the two village men gripe about John Aycliffe. The man’s tyranny over Stomwell—harsh punishments, high taxation, and increased demands for labor—has caused them and their families to suffer. Aycliffe has no blood claim to his position, being related to Lord Furnival only through marriage. To Matthew and Luke, this fact makes it even harder to bear the steward's mistreatment. They both say that they hope Lord Furnival will soon return so that the villagers can complain about Aycliffe’s leadership. Then they make the sign of the cross and continue their search.
When the two men are gone, Asta’s son is left alone to think about what he has heard. Although impressed that the men were brave enough to speak unfavorably of John Aycliffe—who has threatened to hang dissenters—Asta’s son has little interest in their complaints. It seems far more important to him that he has been declared guilty of a crime he never could have imagined committing.
When darkness falls, the search is stopped for the night. Asta’s son is very hungry from a day without food, but he remains hidden for several more hours. He only ventures out after Compline, the final prayer time for the night, is signaled on the church bell. Then, when all is still, Asta’s son creeps timidly toward the church.