Some nights later, Tobin and the kid are sitting together around a campfire, the kid rather efficiently mending a strap. The two begin talking about the Judge, whom Tobin says is very gifted. The Judge even speaks, rather improbably, Dutch, which he claims to have learned from a Dutchman. Tobin spits and says he couldn’t have learned the language from ten Dutchmen; he concludes that God’s gifts are allocated very unequally. He goes on to say that the Judge is an excellent dancer and fiddler, and that he’s traveled the world.
The Judge’s erudition extends not just to the arts and sciences, but also to human languages. His multilingualism stands in stark contrast with the difficulties his fellow scalp hunters have in communicating with the Mexicans they’ve encountered thus far. Indeed, the Judge seems to be the foremost of the gang in respect to giftedness, learnedness, and skill—he dominates in whatever he puts his mind to.
Tobin suggests that perhaps the Judge’s immense learnedness just goes to show how little God cares about learning. Tobin believes that God may speak most profoundly to those who are silent, and that He also speaks to the least of creatures, including men. The kid says he’s never heard the voice of God, but Tobin says that when the voice stops the kid will know he’s really heard it all his life.
Given that he is learned yet wicked, the Judge proves to Tobin that God is indifferent to learnedness. Tobin says that God may speak most to those who are silent instead. That great talker, the Judge, later accuses the kid of being silent; Perhaps the kid’s small mercies are brought about because he hears the voice of God as the Judge cannot.
Tobin then begins to tell the kid about how the Judge first fell in with Glanton’s gang and saved them all. The gang was being pursued by Indians but had run out of powder for their guns, when they found in the middle of the desert the Judge sitting on a rock. He had no canteen, only pistols, gold and silver, and a rifled named Et In Arcadia Ego (“Even in Arcadia, I exist”).
It does not seem accidental but orchestrated, that the Judge should have encountered the scalp hunters in the midst of a vast desert. His rifle’s name comes from the Classics; it means that, even in paradise (Arcadia was a paradise), death exists. For the Judge, the battlefield is ironically paradise.
A deputy in the gang, David Brown, wanted to leave the Judge on his rock, but Glanton overruled him and decided to equip the Judge to travel with the gang. As they rode, Glanton and the Judge began conversing with one another like brothers. The Judge seemed greatly pleased, as though everything had gone according to some plan he had made. The Judge advised that the gang change course for some mountains, and they did so. Tobin wonders aloud how the Judge knew what the mountains held and how to use it.
The Judge’s high spirits and his knowledge of what the gang could find in the mountains suggest that his meeting with the gang was somehow orchestrated, planned or fated—but how, if the Judge is not in some way a supernatural entity? However, the narrative does not altogether dismiss the possibility that the Judge is just insane and lucky.
The Indians pursuing the unarmed gang were catching up. Even so, the Judge remained cheerful, taking notes on the bats flying about by night and even collecting plants by day as he rode toward the mountains. At night, the gang arrives at a cave full of the bats the Judge studied earlier. Tobin says that the Judge brought the gang there for the nitre, also known as saltpeter and potassium nitrate, a chemical found in bat guano that is of great importance in gunpowder.
The Judge later argues that war is the ultimate trade, and that all other trades are means to the end of waging war more excellently. That argument is borne out here, where the Judge’s geographical and scientific knowledge enable him to find and exploit raw materials in the making of gunpowder with which to kill the gang’s pursuers.
Over the next two days, two deserters from the gang were discovered hanging from trees, killed by the pursuing Indians, skinned, and strung up. Because neither deserter had gunpowder on his person, Tobin infers that the Indians must have known by then that the gang in general had no gunpowder. Meanwhile, the Judge and a Delaware had set up a kiln; they distilled nitre from the guano and also manufactured powdered charcoal. This done, the gang rode down the mountain in the dark, not sure where the pursuing Indians were, though they must have been close.
McCarthy reveals the life-and-death stakes of the gang’s situation here, and also generates suspense, by including the two murdered deserters. He also reveals that not all of the gang members had absolute faith in the Judge’s ability to repel the Indians. Like Grannyrat earlier, and the kid later, those who defect from the Judge’s company tend to die violently.
After riding past wolves in the night, the gang reached a malpais, very unforgiving volcanic terrain. There the Judge delivered a sermon about how the earth contains “all good things” in itself, like an egg. Tobin recalls how there were hoof markings in the malpais and speculates that they were created by devils sent out to recapture sinners who had been ejected from Hell.
In this hell-scape, the Judge praises the earth as providing the instruments of domination and pain. It is ironic that he thinks gunpowder, soon to be used in a massacre, a good thing. The hoof prints in the lava heighten the intensity of our suspicion that the Judge himself is a devil.
At the top of the volcanic cone of the malpais, with the pursuing Indians only ten miles away, the Judge began to chip away at the stone with his knife and encouraged others to do the same: it was brimstone, full of pure sulfur. The Judge mixed the nitre, charcoal, and sulfur together, then urinated on the mixture and told the gang to urinate on it too for their very souls. With his bare arms, the Judge kneaded the mass like “foul black dough,” then spread it thin to dry.
It is fitting that gunpowder should be in part derivable from bat feces and human urine. This suggests a deep connection between waste and warfare, and renders the exploitation of the earth all the more viscerally disgusting and outrageous. Instead of providing God’s daily bread of life, the Judge provides the “black bread” of death.
By then, the pursuing Indians had arrived at the base of the malpais and greedily began to climb up to kill the gang. The Judge told the men to bring their concoction to him, which he chopped to a powder when presented with it. He loaded it into Glanton’s pistol, and told Glanton to fire into the cauldron of the volcano: with a strange sound, the gun fired. All the men then loaded their guns with the “queer powder.” The Judge pretended to surrender to the Indians as the only survivor, only for the gang to rise up from behind him and butcher every single one of the Indians.
The Judge’s feigned surrender reveals that his conception of warfare involves not only strength in exerting the will, but also the use of any tactic, including deception, to ensure victory. Note that, as bloodthirsty as the gang is, the Indian’s are just as bloodthirsty. McCarthy is unsparing in his portrait of humankind, regardless of race, as keen to shed blood.
Tobin’s story is ended. The kid asks what, exactly, the Judge is a judge of, but Tobin hushes him, explaining that the Judge will hear him because he has ears like a fox.
Why should Tobin be afraid that the Judge hear the kid? Perhaps he senses that the Judge would harm the kid for having knowledge of him.