While Scratchy Wilson rails outside Jack Potter’s house, Potter and the bride walk “sheepishly” and “with speed” in the direction of Potter’s dwelling. As they round the corner, they come face-to-face with Wilson, who ceases loading one revolver in order to draw and aim another one “straight at the bridegroom’s chest.” Potter reacts coolly, dropping his bag to face Wilson while the bride’s face yellows, leaving her “a slave to hideous rites.”
The first time Scratchy Wilson and Jack Potter confront each other in the story will also be the last time they do so. Potter’s cool reaction to Scratchy’s threats indicates that he is used to them. Meanwhile, the bride plays the role of the stereotypically delicate Victorian woman: the threat of male violence petrifies her.
As the two men face each other down at three paces apart, Scratchy Wilson accuses Jack Potter of plotting an ambush and warns his antagonist not to reach for his gun. He tells Potter that the time has come to “settle” with him, but Potter responds that he is unarmed. As he confronts Wilson, the image of the Pullman rail car fills Potter’s mind, evoking thoughts of green velvet, silver, brass, glass, and gleaming wood—“all the glory of the marriage” and “the environment of the new estate.”
Here Crane appears to promise readers a classic Western shootout. Instead of going for his guns, however, Potter decides to fully embrace his new status as a married man. His thoughts turn to the Pullman, the symbol of his “new estate” and the authoritative role the bride now plays in his life. Fighting Scratchy means giving up all of this “glory,” so Potter refuses to take Wilson’s bait.
A flustered Wilson accuses Potter of lying about his weapon and claims “there ain’t a man in Texas” who has not seen Potter without a gun. Potter insists again that he is unarmed and dares Wilson to shoot him, adding that Wilson will “never get a chance like this again.” Perplexed, Wilson again asks Potter why he does not have a gun. Potter informs Wilson that he is unarmed because he just returned from San Antonio with his new bride. However, had he known there would be “galoots” like Wilson prowling about when he brought the bride home, Potter says he would certainly have brought his gun.
Scratchy Wilson aims to keep alive his long history of tangling with Jack Potter, and he expects Potter to act accordingly. This makes Potter’s insistence that he is not carrying a gun perplexing to Wilson, because he has been primed to act out this rivalry with the marshal forever. For his part, Potter hints that he is tempted to abandon his new domestic life by admitting that, had he anticipated Scratchy’s presence at his home, he would continue to tangle with the outlaw.
Potter’s marriage leaves Scratchy dumbfounded. As he glimpses the “drooping, drowning woman” at Potter’s side, Wilson is “like a creature allowed a glimpse of another world.” He asks if this is the lady that Potter married, to which the marshal answers affirmatively. “Married!” Wilson exclaims multiple times before deciding, “it’s all off now.” Potter responds that the shootout is only off if Scratchy deems it so.
This climactic moment of the story is not only a duel between Potter and Wilson, but also a duel between Wilson and the bride. The bride’s presence attests to the authority she has over Potter: after all, he abandons his old life with Scratchy for a new life with her. Wilson’s outdated frontier masculinity is no match for the bride’s domestic femininity.
Still perplexed, Scratchy is left “a simple child of the earlier plains” who is unaccustomed to the “foreign condition” of Jack’s marriage. A deflated Scratchy Wilson puts his revolvers back into their holsters and walks away. As he walks off, his boots leave “funnel-shaped” prints in the sand.
The story’s anticlimactic climax ends not with guns blazing, but with Wilson finally attaining some awareness of his status as a walking anachronism. Faced with a former antagonist who now refuses to participate in the ancient ritual of male violence, Wilson’s fate echoes that of the frontier itself: a once wild place tamed by the inevitable forces of change.