A few months later, the cowboy and the Easterner meet up near the Dakota state line. The Easterner tells the cowboy that the gambler got a three-year sentence for killing the Swede. The two speculate on why he got such a short sentence, with the Easterner noting there was “a good deal of sympathy for him in Romper.” The cowboy asserts that if only the bartender had been “good” he “would have gone in and cracked that there Dutchman on the head with a bottle in the beginnin’ of it and stopped all this here murderin’.” The Easterner says, “it could have gone a thousand ways.”
The sympathy that the people of Romper feel for the gambler further indicates the Swede's alienation as well as the belief that gambler wasn’t really at fault for the murder. The cowboy suggests the bartender bears responsibility for the Swede’s death because he didn’t stop the fight before it got out of hand, yet the cowboy fails to consider how he, himself, did the same thing back in the hotel— and, according to his own logic, thus played a role in the Swede’s death as well. The Easterner, for his part, suggests that this violence wasn’t fated, but could have been avoided any number of ways.
The Easterner and the cowboy both feel sorry for the gambler. Yet when the Easterner suggests the Swede wouldn’t have been killed if everything “had been square,” the cowboy becomes enraged, insisting the Swede had it coming for him. In response, the Easterner reveals that the Swede wasn't crazy, and that Johnnie actually was cheating at cards. He then calls the cowboy a fool and admits that he himself had been too afraid to say anything during the fight. The Easterner then explains that he believes that all the men are equally guilty for the murder of the Swede. He describes the gambler as simply “the apex of a human movement.”
By exposing Johnnie's deception, the Easterner reveals that each of the men played a role in the Swede’s death. The Easterner also makes it clear here that he perpetuated the ignorance that lead directly to the alienation of the Swede. To the Easterner, the gambler’s behavior was simply due to momentum, the final blow in a chain of events set in motion by the hotel guests.
The cowboy balks at the Easterner’s accusation. He shouts, “injured and rebellious ... into this fog of mysterious theory,” asking the Easterner, “Well I didn't do anything, did I?”
By describing the Easterner’s theory as a “mysterious” fog, Cranes suggests the impossibility of divining—and thus manipulating—fate. Even if it’s possible that the men at the hotel could have avoided hurting each other by doing things differently, that clarity is only available in hindsight. At the same time, it’s clear that they all, in one way or another, contributed to a chain of events that led to the Swede’s death. Whether this means the men carry actual moral guilt is left up for debate; the cowboy, at least, asserts his innocence based on the idea that the Swede’s brought his death upon himself.