Chapter 7: Late in the Night When the Fires Are Out

The family leaves early in the morning for Davy’s trial. They stop first at the DeCuellar home for breakfast where Mrs. DeCuellar becomes the woman you wish had lived next door all the days of your childhood. Reuben says he can’t remember every being so easily liked. Reuben learns that trials are mostly a succession of waits. While waiting to go in, Mr. DeCuellar teaches Reuben and Swede to play War at Sea.

Finally, they are called in and Reuben sees Judge Raster on the bench, a man who strikes him someone who clings to small vanities and he has a preening look. It’s not something you want to see in a judge. The prosecuting attorney, who Reuben only knows as Elvis, makes a five-minute redaction in which Davy ceases to be a human being. The confidence with which he knifes Davy’s honor leaves Reuben’s mouth dry. Then, Mr. DeCuellar steps forward and Reuben is struck by how much he seems like Daniel Webster fighting for the soul of Jabez Stone in The Devil and Daniel Webster. Unfortunately, no one there but Reuben seems as impressed with defense attorney.

The prosecutor calls Stanley Basca to the stand. He testifies that Davy had broken out every window and all the taillights in the Finch boy’s car. For Reuben, this news quickly deadens into recognition of the truth. Davy had issued those two boys an invitation and then took his rifle to bed with him. That’s when Reuben knows that his brother has no chance in that courtroom. Even Dolly’s testimony is no help to Davy, because it establishes the hate that existed between Davy and Israel Finch. Reuben also knows he will have to testify as the only witness to the shootings. What’s the worst about this is that the prosecution is saving him for last as a way to throw away the key on Davy Land.

Swede tells Reuben that night that she believes they are going to lose and so they’ll have to break Davy out. Reuben tells her to grow up at such an idea and then requests that she read some poems by Robert Louis Stevenson. She chooses one in which he envisions a man riding a horse all through the night, galloping and galloping by. She softly asserts, “It’s a sign.”

The next afternoon, Reuben is put on the stand. Davy makes faces at him, trying to make him laugh. He tells the reader that he is now witnessing against himself and if he attempts to make excuses for what he says, we, the readers, must pay him no mind. He goes on to say that Elvis approaches him in patronizing manner and so he gives the man nothing at first. But gradually - oh, it hurts! - something begins to work on him. Looking back on what he said, Reuben asserts that pride is the rope God allows us all. He becomes conscious of people looking at him and thinks of them as his sun and his water. He wants to impress them and forgets that what he says can send his brother to prison. Unfortunately, Elvis knows exactly how to work him and gets him to admit that Davy had said to his father the night the boys took Swede, “How many times do you let a dog bite you, before you put him down?” This revelation shows that Davy wasn’t just defending his home. He was seeking revenge.

That night Reuben agrees to break Davy out of prison. He and Swede lay in bed that night planning how they’ll do while the adults sit in the kitchen below contemplating their own ideas. Reuben hadn’t been able to look Mr. DeCuellar in the eye after his testimony, because of the sorrow and disappointment he sees there. While he had been on the stand, he could see how his penchant for honesty had led him to hand over his brother. He saw it coming, but could not stop it. Humility came to him too late.

Swede puts jeans on over her pajamas, and the two set out to break Davy out of prison. Unfortunately, the adults decide to have their coffee in the living room and will see them if they sneak out. So Swede decides that they’ll wait until everyone is asleep. Then, they fall asleep themselves, further delaying the plan. The next thing Reuben remembers is his father waking him to say that the sheriff had come over an hour before, because Davy had broken out of jail.


Davy’s trial is an example of how the justice system in a small town often doesn’t work fairly. Even though Davy had lured the two boys to the house to kill them, the law had failed the entire Land family out of fear of these two bullies. Davy has no other option than to break out of jail.

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