The men get dressed in their winter clothes and open the door to the blizzard. The wind blows the cards against the wall. It is bitterly cold, the landscape blue and barren, with the train station in the distance. The men find a patch of grass protected from the snow behind the hotel, and the Swede calls out in the wind that the other men will gang up on him during the fight. Scully makes it clear the fight will be fair—it will just be between the Swede and Johnnie, and anyone who tries to get involved otherwise will have to deal with Scully.
The cards blowing against the wall indicates that any chance the men had to control their fate has been lost. The blue color of the landscape reflects the blue of the hotel, suggesting that the lack of self-control bred within its walls has bled into the surrounding world. The far-off train station, meanwhile, symbolizes the great distance between the violent men and civilization and reason. The Swede is very aware at this point of his alienated status in the group, though Scully tries to insist that the fight will be fair.
The men make “arrangements” and prepare for the fight—“obedient to the harsh commands of Scully,” who looks in this moment like a Roman veteran. In the pause before the fight, the Easterner takes a mental snapshot of the scene. He captures the “iron-nerved master of the ceremony” Scully, Johnnie, who looks “heroic” and “brutish,” and the Swede, who is “pale, motionless, terrible.” All the while the blizzard wails “into the black abyss of the South”
The seemingly methodical preparation for the fight and depiction of Scully as a “Roman veteran” suggest the men are trying to impose a sense of order onto chaos. The Easterner's mental snapshot further pins the men to their roles in the violence—Scully has forced the men together and in that way is the “master of ceremonies” who orchestrated the building tension. That Johnnie appears heroic, meanwhile, is ironic and underscores the story’s theme of deception, given that it will ultimately be revealed that Johnnie was, in fact, cheating. The “pale, motionless, terrible” Swede is isolated and alone, identified primarily via his clear separation from the others.
The fight begins, and all the men are shocked at how violently and rapidly it starts. The men are just a jumble of flailing arms and legs, which appear like “swiftly revolving wheels” in the muddle of bodies. Throughout this, the cowboy is struck by a “war-like” rage, bolts forth “with the speed of a bronco,” and starts urging Johnnie to murder the Swede, screaming, “Kill him!” Finally, Johnnie falls back in the grass, winded. Scully asks his son with “melancholy” tenderness if he thinks he can keep going. Johnnie finally manages to say yes.
The sudden onset of the fight reveals how quickly “order” can explode into violent chaos. This scene suggests that prior civility between the men was a veneer, a mask for steadily building tension. This is reflected by the cowboy’s sudden, intense bloodthirstiness; the animalistic description of the cowboy further suggests that his behavior is somewhat instinctive—and, more broadly, that within all men is the capacity for such violence.
The fight continues. Johnnie dodges the Swede and sends him to the ground as the others cheer. However, the Swede gets back up and then leans against a nearby tree. The Easterner notices that the man’s situation is marked by the “splendor of isolation.” Johnnie is finally knocked to the ground. Scully asks Johnnie if he's finished fighting, and Johnnie says yes. He starts crying over his defeat. Scully announces to the Swede, calling him “Stranger,” that Johnnie is “whipped.” The Swede walks alone to the hotel.
The Swede's alienation is clear in this scene—he stands alone beside the spindly, half-dead tree, is thought of by Scully as a “stranger,” and returns to the hotel by himself. The fact that the other men cheer when the Swede falls is further indicative of his loneliness and his isolation from the group.
Scully asks Johnnie if he can walk, but Johnnie is more concerned about whether or not he hurt the Swede. The men carry Johnnie back into the hotel and gather around the stove to warm up. Suddenly women enter the room, including Johnnie's mother. She scolds Scully for allowing their son to get so badly hurt, telling him that he should be ashamed of himself. The girls who join her “sniff disdainfully” at the cowboy and the Easterner, who are referred to as “accomplices.”
That Johnnie is more concerned with the Swede's injuries than his own suggests that Johnnie refuses to be vulnerable and is instead focused on the damage he's caused. The rush of women into the scene highlights the men's shameful behavior, as well as the reality that they each had more control over their actions then any of them want to admit—even the cowboy and the Easterner are referred to as accomplices, underscoring their culpability in the seemingly chaotic, inevitable violence.