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As Cassie and the boys approach the house, they can see that their parents have already discovered that the children are not in their beds. Discarding any attempts at secrecy, they enter boldly at the front door and blurt out the Avery situation in bits and pieces as Papa prepares to whip them for leaving. Then Cassie gets his attention and tells him the whole story, including the fact the Stacey is still there, hidden in the woods. Papa grabs his gun, and he and Mr. Morrison head into the woods with Maryís words, "donít use the gun," hardly giving him pause. He stops just long enough to tell her that this thing has been coming for a long time and T.J. just happened to be the one stupid enough to trigger it. He will do what he has to do, but at the last minute it seems like another idea has occurred to him.
The women and children wait as time passes slowly and a rainless thunder/lightning storm rages. Suddenly Mama smells smoke on the wind. Deep in the field where the land slopes toward the Granger fields, the cotton is on fire. Big Ma and Mary gather burlap sacks, soak them in water and head for the fields to fight the fire, ordering the children to stay in the house.
Shortly before dawn, Jeremy shows up. He had been sleeping in his tree house when he smelled the smoke and told his pa. They assume the lightning had struck a fence post and sparked the cotton. They had gathered all the men, including R.W. and Melvin, Mr. Simms, the Wallaces, the sheriff, and all the other tenant farmers and landowners in the area. Mr. Granger and Pa had directed the men to dig a ditch and set the pasture grass afire as a fire break. At last, however, the storm breaks completely pouring rain onto the land and putting the fire out.
With the fire nearly out, Cassie and Little Man run along the road to the burnt area where weary people are dumping shovels full of dirt on stubborn patches of fire. They soon discover that everyone is okay except T.J. who has been taken into Strawberry. Papa and Mr. Morrison didnít have to fight for T.J.. Once everyone is back in the house, Cassie insists that Stacey tell her what happened at Averys. The Wallaces had tried to take T.J. away in one of their cars, but Jamison had swung his car in front to block the road and had run to get Mr. Granger who passed the buck to the sheriff. The Simms brothers had just finished pushing Jamisonís car off the road when Mr. Granger came running out shouting that smoke was coming from his forest. People raced around collecting shovels and then all headed for the woods.
Mr. Jamison arrives to tell David and Mr. Morrison that Mr. Barnett died. Papa offers to go into town with T.J.ís parents, but Mr. Jamison tells him he better stay clear of the entire mess or someone might start wondering about the fire. Cassie tries to ask for an explanation, but Stacey tells her to hush. Then it dawns on Cassie that her father had done as Mama had asked and had found a way to stop the hanging without using the gun. He had started his own cotton on fire. This something, Cassie realizes, that belongs to the category of "known and unknown things, something never to be spoken, not even to each other."
Stacey wants to know what will happen to T.J. Papa cannot lie to them- or deny that T.J. will probably die, falsely accused of murder and robbery. All he can say is that it "shouldnít" be.
The story ends with Papa going into the woods after Stacey and Cassie crying for the land and for T.J..
David can make the sacrifice of setting his own land on fire because under normal circumstances, no one would expect him to do that. Without a means of stopping the hanging, T.J. would have been executed on the spot and no one would have even been questioned about it. Stacey knows from the start that his father had set the fire, but could not have told Cassie if she had not guessed. Cassieís tears are full of mixed emotions. She knows their land has been saved even if a quarter of the yearís cotton is lost. She also cries for T.J., for although she had never liked him, he had always been a part of her life, and she had thought he always would be. She does not completely understand what has happened to T.J., but does know that it is something that will effect her and her family for the rest of her life.