Back in town, the kid goes into a tavern where he is promptly arrested by four soldiers who don’t even ask his name. In jail, the kid speaks with strange urgency about what he has seen in his lifetime of only sixteen years, and the soldiers come to think that he has gone mad from having participated in so many “acts of blood.”
The kid, so silent throughout the novel, begins to confess to his crimes, to bear witness and stand in judgment on his own acts of blood. He does so with urgency, as though seeking relief or redemption.
One morning, the kid wakes to find the Judge standing before his cage for a visit. The Judge tells him that Tobin has gone mad, and that the local authorities believe the Judge’s own word that the kid is solely responsible the calamitous events at the ferry. They intend to hang the kid for his crimes.
Whereas the kid gives true witness to his crimes, the Judge gives false witness, just as he did in Reverend Green’s case. In this way, the Judge himself evades being revealed for the monster he is.
The Judge tells the kid to come closer. He tells him that he would have loved him like a son had the kid not stood in judgment on his own deeds, a witness against himself. He accuses the kid of having poisoned the enterprise of the scalp hunters by not having given his heart entirely to warfare. After all, the Judge thinks that what brings men is “the sharing of enemies.” But who would the kid have the Judge as an enemy with? The kid counters that it was the Judge who destroyed all of their fellows. The Judge checks his watch, announces that he has errands to run, and leaves.
The Judge seems to think the kid an ideal son in that he was raised on violence and has a great talent for murder. However, the kid was too merciful to serve the god of war as an absolute partisan. The kid’s counter-accusation might be based on the fact that the Judge alienated the gang with his lectures and gratuitous violence (as when he shot the Indian infant), also that the Judge himself was so suspiciously well prepared for the Yumas’ raid.
That night, the kid calls over the corporal who mans the jail and tells him about the gang’s hoard of gold and silver coins hidden in the mountains. The corporal listens skeptically and leaves when the kid finishes. Two days later, the kid is baptized by a Spanish priest, released from prison, given a fatherly talk by the local magistrate, and turned out into the streets.
The kid must tell the corporal about the gold and silver the gang amassed while running the ferry on the Colorado River. Though the kid has confessed to heinous crimes, treasure secures his freedom, suggesting that human justice is not strictly principled.
The kid finds a surgeon in town who agrees to remove the arrow from the kid’s leg the following day. The kid shows up the appointment drunk on whiskey, which causes an altercation until the surgeon promises that the ether he’ll provide is a stronger painkiller than liquor. The kid is led to a sick bay to bathe, then laid out on a trestle in a nearby room for the operation.
Even after all he’s been through, the kid still relies on altercations and violence to satisfy his will. The kid’s commitment to drunkenness suggests a desire on his part to forget not only his pain but to cease bearing witness to his terrible past altogether.
While etherized, the kid deliriously dreams of the Judge, whom the narrator describes as having no knowable origins. The kid dreams that with the Judge is a forger who works without fire and who is trying to engrave the Judge’s face into a coin that will pass for currency in the markets where people trade. “Of this is the judge,” says the narrator. The forger is waiting for dawn to come (presumably so that markets of exchange will open and his coins can circulate), but “the night does not end.”
Generally, the face of a ruler is impressed into a coin. Earlier the Judge claims that he desires to be a supreme ruler, and yet in this dream he never approves of the forger’s representation of him. It is as though the Judge’s true aim is not to be a ruler after all, for this would mean the end of the eternal night of warfare, the abstraction of warfare into merely economic terms.
The operation is a success, and within a week the kid is able to hobble through town on crutches. He seeks Tobin, but no one knows what’s become of him.
Tobin’s disappearance from the narrative means that we’ll never know if the Judge spoke true when he said that Tobin went mad.
In June of that year, the kid is in Los Angeles and witnesses a public hanging. Later that evening, he discovers that the men hanged are none other than Toadvine and Davy Brown.
After Tobin’s disappearance and the hanging, the kid, the Judge, and the idiot are the only survivors of Glanton’s gang, the only witnesses to the gang’s crimes.
Later, in the same city, the kid beats senseless a man who thinks he is a male prostitute, and sometime after the kid’s purse, watch, and shoes are stolen. One night he sees a face slobbering at a window and goes upstairs to the room and knocks: the door is opened by a woman in a kimono, and behind her is a person in a pen similar in appearance to the idiot. Without a word the kid leaves the building.
The kid is as violent as ever. He seems compelled to track down all possibly living members of the gang, as though desirous to learn how many mental records of the gang’s crimes yet exist.
With his last two dollars, the kid buys the necklace of ears that Davy Brown wore to the scaffold. The next morning, he signs on with a company driving livestock to Sacramento. He is at this employment for some months, then quits abruptly and travels from place to place.
The kid buys the necklace as though he desires evidence of his own acts of blood, an objective witness that will prevent him from forgetting what evils he is capable of. From here on out, he leads a more humane life.
During his travels, people defer to the kid as one who has experienced more than his years can account for. He acquires a horse and gun and carries with him a Bible that he cannot read. He witnesses more violence in his life, never sees Tobin again, and hears rumors about the Judge everywhere he goes.
The Bible represents for the kid a break from viciousness and violence and a turn to virtue and mercy. The Judge is as ubiquitous as evil itself, almost supernaturally so.
At the age of 28, the kid is escorting, along with five other men, a family through the desert eastward. He abandons them seven days from the coast and rides north into alien country. There he meets a procession of musicians, a man led by a rope, and a penitent shouldering a wooden cross. Behind them is a cart in which a person dressed as a skeleton sits among stones. The procession disappears into the darkness.
The procession the kid sees in the mountains seems like an allegorical synopsis of his experiences with Glanton’s gang: the man led by the rope recalls the leashed idiot, the cross-bearing penitent recalls the kid’s own guilt and sacrifices (and the Judge in the desert), and the skeleton in the cart recalls the gang’s ferry of death.
The next day, the kid continues trekking, leading his horse over the difficult terrain. At one point, the horse refuses to go further, and it’s then that the kid sees below the people from yesterday’s procession, all of them murdered and butchered among the stones. The kid sees an old woman nearby, whom he approaches and promises to escort to a safe place. When she doesn’t respond, the kid touches her, only to discover that she’s a dried husk, “dead in that place for years.”
The procession of penitence and renewal has ironically become a macabre dance of death. Violence has mysteriously and senselessly touched even this isolated spot of earth. The husk of the old woman is also a reminder that death has been here before, and suggests that murder and death will plague the earth forever.