Inman walks through forests, by rivers, and through fields. The weather is pleasant, and he meets few people—mostly slaves. He tries to find the proper path to Salisbury, consulting people he passes along the way. Later he notices a group of beautiful young women bathing on the banks of a river. The women, who seem not to know that they’re being watched, lift up their skirts, revealing their smooth, pale skin. Instead of hungering for the women’s bodies, Inman finds himself hungering for the baskets of food they’ve left near the river. When the women jump into the water, Inman sneaks out and steals some of their food—fish and biscuits.
This is a vivid portrayal of the psychology of survival. Inman is a man, with sexual needs, but first and foremost, he’s a being, who needs food and water to survive. In the end, Inman’s need for food overcomes his need for sexual pleasure—thus, he steals the fish instead of talking to the young women (this scene could also be interpreted as another allusion to the Sirens episode of the Odyssey, in which beautiful, seductive sea monsters hypnotize Odysseus and his men).
Inman continues walking along the road. After a time, he crosses paths with none other than the priest he previously tied and gagged, whose face is covered in bruises. The priest, much to Inman’s surprise, doesn’t yell at Inman—he just thanks Inman for saving him from sin. He explains that after Inman left him, the townspeople beat him and banished him from town. He tells Inman that he’ll walk along the road with Inman, “if you don’t mind.” Inman is about to tell the priest to take a different route, but then he realizes that the priest is a beaten man—harmless and docile. He allows the priest, whose name is Solomon Veasey, to walk beside him.
Frazier doesn’t spell out exactly how we’re supposed to feel about Solomon Veasey. Yes, he’s a corrupt man and a horrible priest. And yet he’s also going through the same turmoil as Inman and Ada: his world has been torn apart by war. This doesn’t justify Veasey’s actions by any means, but it does suggest that we should offer Veasey some sympathy—as Inman seems to do in this scene.
Veasey babbles to Inman about starting a new life out West. He claims he’s headed to Texas to be a farmer. He shows Inman the revolver that he’s going to trade for his first bull and cow. Inman and Veasey eat honeycomb and berries in the afternoon, and Inman notices that Veasey is like a child—naïve and easily scared. Later on, Veasey spots a big catfish swimming in the water, and dives in. Inman watches in amusement as Veasey tries and fails to wrestle the catfish from the water. When Veasey is worn out, Inman draws his gun and shoots the fish, killing it instantly. Inman and Veasey eat the catfish.
It’s worth asking why Inman agrees to travel with Veasey. In part, Inman seems to sympathize with Veasey’s desire to start over in Texas. And in part, Inman finds Veasey pathetic and immature—not a real threat at all. Perhaps the most important reason why Inman agrees to travel with Veasey is that Inman needs some companionship. He has no practical reason to take care of Veasey (it means less catfish for him, after all), but Veasey at least provides Inman with someone to talk to.
In the evening, Inman tells Veasey about his experiences in Petersburg. He remembers fighting beside the troops from South Carolina. Inman’s commander, Haskell, ordered them into the battle, and together the troops ran past mortar fire and loud explosions. Dozens of Inman’s peers died in the fight—explosives tore their bodies to pieces.
This scene works as a kind of therapy for Inman. Inman needs another human being—even if it’s someone as corrupt as Veasey—to listen to his problems. While Veasey doesn’t really offer any sympathy or encouragement to Inman, he listens to Inman—and maybe that’s enough.
The next day, Veasey and Inman arrive at a small country shop to buy food. Veasey immediately draws his weapon and points it at the shopkeeper. Inman, disturbed, takes a heavy object and hits Veasey over the head with it—he has no intention of stealing from the shop. Inman apologizes to the shopkeeper, saying, “He’s but a fool.”
In this strange, comic scene, Inman treats Veasey like a child (albeit a dangerous one), apologizing to the shopkeeper as brusquely as if Veasey were a naughty eight-year-old.
Inman and Veasey continue walking down the road, Veasey rubbing his head where Inman struck him. They come to a large wooden building, an inn. A stranger lets them inside, and Veasey grins, as if he knows exactly what to expect. Inside, there’s a “black whore,” Tildy, who greets Inman and Veasey. Tildy asks Veasey if he has “a lot to give,” and Veasey assures her that he’s rich. Before Veasey and Tildy can leave the room, a stranger stops Tildy and tells her to leave Veasey. Veasey tries to draw his weapon, but he’s too slow—the stranger points his gun right at Veasey. Inman is able to diffuse the situation by drawing his own gun and saying that he doesn’t want trouble. After a tense moment, the stranger lowers his weapon and nods, and Tildy and Veasey leave the building together.
In this episode (one of maybe half a dozen in the chapter), Veasey loses his dignity and his property in the whorehouse. It’s not entirely clear if Tildy and the stranger plan to rob their customers, or if the stranger just took a disliking to Veasey—or both. In either case, the scene is significant for the way it again positions Inman as an authority figure—almost like a parent. Inman has matured in many different ways in the last couple of chapters, and his newfound sense of authority and leadership is apparent here.
Since Veasey has just left the building to have sex with Tildy, Inman is by himself. He decides to spend the night in the inn, paying about five Confederate dollars for food and shelter for the night. Later in the night, Inman encounters an old peddler whose name is Odell. Odell offers Inman some whiskey from Tennessee, which they enjoy together. Odell tells Inman that he was born rich, but lost his property in Georgia due to the chaos of the war.
Once again, Inman provides for Veasey, and it’s not totally clear why he does so. But one potential answer comes with Odell. Just as Odell gives Inman and Veasey food and drink in exchange for listening to his stories, so too could Inman be said to provide for Veasey in return for Veasey’s companionship and audience.
Odell continues telling Inman about his life. He grew up on a plantation, and studied to take over the plantation when he grew up. As a young man, he fell in love with a slave named Lucinda, even though he was already married. He also developed a bad gambling habit. A short time later, Lucinda became pregnant. Odell tried to buy Lucinda from his own father, but instead, his father sold Lucinda to another slave owner in Mississippi. Odell, overcome with grief, left his father’s plantation for Mississippi, but never found Lucinda. He’s slowly been losing his money for the last few years, but believes that he still has a huge fortune waiting for him back in Georgia.
Odell’s story captures the emotional and historical turmoil of the period following the Civil War. Odell, we might say, is the typical Southern gentleman, in all his contradictions and vices. Like many Southern gentlemen of the antebellum period Odell squanders his vast fortune on his own desires (in his case, gambling). More to the point, Odell also has a desire for his own slave—a desire that’s especially creepy in light of the fact that he seems more or less indifferent to the concept of slavery itself. (He may claim that he “loved” Lucinda, but it’s hard to love someone you don’t regard as fully human.) Like most of the Southern gentry, Odell loses his dignity and class after the war—and probably his fortune, too.
Odell finishes his tale, and Inman is so overcome that he says, “It’s a feverish world.” The next morning, Inman and Veasey reunite. Veasey claims that he had a wonderful night, although Inman notices that Veasey has a long scratch on his eye. Together, they set off down the road.
Inman’s reaction to Odell’s story might as well be ours. Odell has had a lot of bad luck, but it’s also hard to be too sympathetic to Odell’s feelings for Lucinda, considering his feelings about slavery. The only sensible reaction is Inman’s: “The world is a strange place.” It’s also worth noting that Inman doesn’t abandon Veasey, although it would be easy enough for him to do so when they separate—he seems to get something out of Veasey’s company, even if it’s only community.