The deputy in Jefferson informs the sheriff that Lena has settled into the cabin on the Burden property, believing that it was the house Joe Brown promised he would provide for her and the baby. Byron Bunch, meanwhile, is camped out in a tent a short distance from the cabin. Concluding that Lena is harming no one, the sheriff decides to allow her to stay there.
At three o’clock in the morning, the sheriff is summoned by a man who reports that Joe Christmas went on a rampage at a black church twenty miles away. Thundering in and disrupting the service, Joe assaulted several church members and cursed God from the pulpit. The grandson of one of the elder members whom Joe punched rushed at Joe with a razor, but Joe knocked him out with a blow to the head. After having a cigarette out front in the dark, he ran off.
The posse of men with bloodhounds arrives at the church to try to track Joe down. They find a note, consisting solely of an expletive, addressed to the sheriff and left in the church. The men then go on a chase across the countryside, tracking the fugitive to a cabin where he changed shoes with the woman inside. The sheriff returns the group to a cotton house, but the search yields nothing.
On the run, Christmas loses track of what day it is, running until he collapses from exhaustion and sleeping where and when he can. Starving, he eats old, worm-ridden fruit and unripe corn that he picks in fields. In his delirium and bedraggled state, people recoil from him whenever he meets or passes them on the road or in the backcountry. One day, he asks a farmer’s wife what day it is; he gets an answer but is told to keep going away from the property. He has the dim recollection of a black family feeding him a full meal. Eventually, a young man in a wagon gives him a ride to Mottstown.
A strange old couple named the Hineses have lived in Mottstown for nearly thirty years. Mr. Hines, also known as Uncle Doc, once had a mysterious job in Memphis, but he lost it long ago and has never seemed to work again. The couple settled in a black section of Mottstown, and it seems that they are able to eat only because several black women take pity on them and bring food to their back door. Over the years, Mr. Hines has taken to preaching in rural black churches, where in his crazed, bombastic manner he counsels black parishioners to accept the superiority of whites.
On the day Joe Christmas is captured and brought to town, Mr. Hines breaks through the crowd and comes face to face with the fugitive. He attempts to strike Joe with his cane but is subdued and driven home. When the men walk the fatigued and catatonic Mr. Hines to his door, his wife is unusually curious about Joe Christmas, and the men begin to suspect that the couple once knew the prisoner. Once inside, Mrs. Hines asks her husband what he did more than thirty years ago with a baby belonging to a woman named Milly.