Chapter 4 Summary
Byron Bunch tells Hightower of the events of the night before, when he met Lena. He regrets telling Lena where to find Joe Brown (Lucas Burch). She planned to walk out to the burning house, though Byron told her that it is over two miles away. Lena points out that she has just walked all the way from Alabama.
Byron tells Hightower that both Christmas and Brown were living in a cabin on the Burden property and selling bootleg whiskey, about which Miss Burden evidently did not know. Both Christmas and Brown got out of the fire all right. Hightower cannot see why Byron is so upset about telling Lena about Brown because Lena had come to Jefferson specifically to find her “husband.”
Byron took Lena to his boarding house and introduced her to his landlady, Mrs. Beard, as “Miz Burch.” He explained that she has come to town to meet her husband but needs a place to rest. Mrs. Beard was suspicious. Byron said Lena could have his room, though he was not leaving as he usually does. Mrs. Beard fixed up a cot and told Lena to wait in the parlor, thinking she did not need to be around the male boarders at the moment.
Hightower is still not sure why Byron has come to see him; Byron sees that Hightower has not yet heard all the news of what happened at the fire. He first announces that Christmas is part “negro.” A country man found the fire first. He shouted into the house but got no response. He broke down the door to find Joe Brown, drunk. He kept insisting that there was no one upstairs. The country man pushed past Brown and went up the stairs. There he found Miss Burden almost completely decapitated. He ran downstairs and told his wife to call the sheriff while he began to draw water to put out the fire. The firemen arrived but were unable to put out the fire. Miss Burden’s nephew was informed, and he offered a reward for the capture of the murderer.
Both Brown and Christmas left, but Brown returned and told the sheriff that Christmas is guilty; Christmas had an affair with Miss Burden while he was living there. The sheriff was suspicious but changed his mind after Brown told him that Christmas has “nigger blood” in him. Byron tells Hightower that he cannot tell Lena yet in case Brown decides to take off.