As suspected, there is another indian attack, mercifully less gratuitous. It never gets hand-to-hand; they just take shots at each other from some distance, and the indians move on. Toadvine hits one of them though, and they come upon him dead. The Judge seems particularly interested in some of the items the Apache is carrying, a tigre-skin warbag (especially the “inward part of some beast” inside the bag, which he pockets), and a small skin bag the indian was carrying inside his drawers (which the Judge also keeps; the bag, not the drawers). Are these relics of spiritual power? Magic? Voodoo? Some other mystery?
Again there is ghost imagery: “[t]hat night they sat at the fire like ghosts in their dusty beards and clothing, rapt, pyrolatrous [i.e. fire worshipping].”
They also come across a ghost carriage, abandoned, the horses still alive, but everyone inside dead, “in a stink to drive a buzzard off a gutcart” (that’s got to be bad).
Eventually they come to a presidio (fortified military settlement). There are “squatters” inside, a sorry bunch. They were prospectors looking for precious metals, but they were attacked by “the savages,” fled here and holed up. There are four of them, one shot through the chest that is not long for this world.
“What have you done for him?” asks Irving, the doctor of Glanton’s gang.
“Ain’t done nothin,” replies one of the squatters.
“What do you want me to do for him?” asks Irving.
“Aint asked you to do nothin,” says the squatter.
“That’s good,” said Irving. “Because there aint nothing to be done.”
There is a horse with the squatters that has been snakebit. What an ugly image that is! The other horses do not take kindly to his shenanigans.
There is a Mexican or halfbreed boy, maybe twelve years old, in all this mess. I don’t want to know why he’s there or what he has been through.
The Judge is holding court again, cracking open ore samples and reading the history of the world from the core of their insides. Some quote the scriptures to correct him:
“Books lie,” he replies, meaning the Bible [blasphemy].
“God don’t lie.”
“No,” said the Judge. “He does not. And these are his words…[holding up a rock]. He speaks in stones and trees, the bones of things.”
The squatters nod, starting to agree with this “man of learning.” “[T]hey were right proselytes of the new order whereupon he [the Judge] laughed at them for fools.”
That night it rains torrentially. Someone reports that the Judge is atop the walls, naked, “immense and pale in the revelations of lightning, striding the perimeter up there and declaiming in the old epic mode.”
The next morning Toadvine sees him picking his teeth with a thorn, as if he had just eaten (creepy).
“Morning,” says the Judge.
“Morning,” says Toadvine.
“Looks fair to clear.”
“It done has cleared,” said Toadvine.
“So it has,” says the Judge. “So it has.”
(Love all the dialogue in this book).
What happens next I found very interesting, but it is so subtle, if you’re not paying attention, you miss it. The squatters have decided to join Glanton’s group, and the leader steps forward to tell Glanton of their decision. Glanton won’t even look at him. You wonder why, only a little bit later realizing that it is because Glanton doesn’t want them joining the group and dragging them down. The squatters are going to be abandoned.
Not surprisingly, the boy doesn’t make it, found lying face down amidst scattered old bones, “[a]s if he like others before him had stumbled upon a place where something inimical lived.” Again, I don’t want to know.
The scalphunters mount up and leave, the poorly armed, ill-clad, tatterdemalion (ragamuffin, a person wearing ragged or tattered clothing) squatters left behind for what is sure to be a gruesome fate, one way or the other. The one shot through the chest sings a hymn as they are leaving, and the riders “may have ridden more slowly the longer to hear him for they of just these qualities themselves.”
It stands out to me how significant horses are, in this book, in this chapter, and how crucial they must have been at this time. Snow blind, arrow-hit, snakebit. They are like human characters.
The chapter ends with two of the most eerie, beautiful passages I have ever read:
– As they are traveling, they shoot some deer, and eventually stop to build a fire to cook it. When they are done, they leave the fire lit. Looking back, the fire seems to shift unaccountably, like some ignis fatuus:
1. A phosphorescent light that hovers or flits over swampy ground at night, possibly caused by spontaneous combustion of gases emitted by rotting organic matter. Also called friar’s lantern, jack-o’-lantern, will-o’-the-wisp, wisp.
Then, speaking of the ignis fatuus:
For this will to deceive that is in things luminous may manifest itself likewise in retrospect and so by sleight of some fixed part of a journey already accomplished may also post men to fraudulent destinies.
Amazing! I wonder if he just writes this stuff straight out, or it takes some time. It would take me a lifetime.
– They soon come upon another group, heading in the opposite direction. Both parties seem wary, as is probably wise out here. Where are you going? Where did you come from?
The other party has meat, and the Americans might have traded for some, but they carried no tantamount goods “and the disposition of exchange was foreign to them.” Then they part ways:
[D]ivided upon that midnight plain, each passing back the way the other had come, pursuing as all travelers must inversions without end upon other men’s journeys.