Peace Like a River

Peace Like a River Summary and Analysis of Chapter 7: Late in the Night When the Fires Are Out


On the day that Davy’s trial begins, the Lands have breakfast at Mr. DeCuellar’s house. Mrs. DeCuellar, a friendly and warm person, prepares a luxurious feast for breakfast much to the delight of Swede and Reuben. They get to the courthouse and wait several hours - Mr. DeCuellar teaching the children how to play War at Sea to pass the time - before they are called into the courtroom.

When Davy is escorted into the courtroom, Reuben takes note of his haggard appearance and that he appears to have lost weight. Open remarks begin with Elvis, the prosecutor ripping in to Davy and the media for portraying him as a hero, while Mr. DeCuellar defended Davy. The trial does not go well for Davy. Stanley Basca, Tommy Basca’s father, testifies that before his son was murdered, Davy had smashed in all of the windows of Israel Finch’s prized car. Reuben knows in that moment that Davy had taken the gun to bed with him that night because he was expecting retaliation from Finch and Basca.

Basca’s aunt, Margery Basca who had been interviewed by the newspapers, tearfully testified that her nephew was a good boy while Israel Finch’s grandfather explained that his grandson had had a tough upbringing. Dolly also testified, but Reuben knew that Elvis was only using her testimony to show that Davy did not like Finch or Basca.

That night as Reuben and Swede went to sleep in the DeCuellar’s library, Swede admits what Reuben has felt since the opening remarks: Davy is going to lose. To save their brother from a life in prison Swede suggests that they break him out of jail that night. Reuben, being the wiser, older brother convinces her otherwise.

Instead, they read poems by Robert Louis Stevenson, including one that sends shivers down Reuben’s spine and gave the chapter its title, “Late in the night when the fires are out.” Swede takes the poem as a sign to break Davy out of jail but Reuben does not want to believe it.

The following afternoon Reuben testifies as the only eyewitness to the murders other than Davy. He forces himself to be strong, to not give in to Elvis’s questions that attempt to make him appear impartial. It is only when Elvis asks about the night that Swede was kidnapped that Reuben falters. At first he believes that Davy had acted calm and collected upon Swede’s return, but when he repeats what Davy had said - “How many times do you let a dog bite you before you put him down?” - Reuben knows for certain that Davy is going to lost.

Reuben apologizes profusely to Mr. DeCuellar for ruining the trial and that night he agrees to break Davy out of jail with Swede. The children pretend to go to sleep, waiting for the adults to do the same before they sneak out. Arming themselves with stolen butcher knives, Reuben and Swede wait and wait for the adults to go to sleep, but they stay up talking instead.

Early the next morning his father awakes Reuben with the news that the sheriff has just been by the house. Davy broke out of jail in the middle of the night.


The most apparent theme in this section is Reuben’s loyalty to Davy. When they realize that their brother is going to be convicted after Reuben’s damaging testimony, Swede and Reuben plan to break Davy out of jail. As unlikely that they will be successful in their attempt, it is a revealing course of action that demonstrates Reuben and Swede’s devotion to Davy.

Another way in which Reuben shows his loyalty to Davy is during his testimony. Although Reuben does give the prosecution Davy’s damning statement after Swede’s return, the narrator does his best not to crack under the pressure from the prosecutor. Reuben attempts to outsmart the prosecutor’s leading questions and tries to show that is wise beyond his eleven years while on the stand. Reuben’s description of himself during the trial - the way in which he tries to impress Davy - is analogous to his behavior on the hunting trip when he wants nothing more than to be like his older brother.

While at the trial, he court hears testimony from both Basca and Finch’s family members. Basca’s family paints their son as a caring person who was merely lead astray and Finch’s grandfather recognizes that his grandson had a terrible upbringing and was quite troubled. It is the first time that the reader hears the viewpoint of a family besides the Lands and it suggests that there are at least two sides to every story. While Davy has had his name thrown away in the media, the Basca and Finch families have experienced something similar.