Reuben wonders who could imagine someone would come to the door, in plain sight, such a lovely October evening, with evil in his heart. Dad is right that Finch and Basco don’t know that they have already lost. Davy is in the garage when they come to the house and Swede answers the door. Israel covers her mouth and drags her to a Chevy with Tommy behind the wheel. She had been writing more of the epic poem and as Reuben says, “an outlaw palace built of rock” becomes a smelly sinhole “strewn with bits of bone and hair.” Israel forces her to sit on his lap while Tommy pulls away from the house and only takes his hand from her mouth when the car is a block away, gleefully noting, “Now you see how easy that was?” Later, “Swede would characterize the interlude as ‘small and dirty time,’ and through the days of abductions and mayhem and bodies turning up in ditches Swede’s ordeal might seem almost innocuous, to think of it still hurts me, physically. I feel it churning yet.” Reuben says a nine year old shouldn’t be dragged from her house by someone who hates her, nor be forced to hear the language of the unloved, nor be jiggled in the laps of perverts, nor be told, “We’ll take you home now, but we’ll be back. We’re right outside your window.”
When they return Swede, she is not crying, but is white and silent. Davy picks her up as she crashes through the front door and hears and smells the departing Chevy. The town cop, Ted Pullet is called, but the results from him are unsatisfactory. He says he went by their houses, but neither was home, so he’ll slip by in the morning. He is entirely too casual about the event, using the comment that Swede wasn’t hurt as reason not to pursue “the boys.” Meanwhile, Davy has his keys in hand when Dad pulls rank and calls Pullet. Davy says to his father, “How many times does a dog have to bite before you put him down?” (Page 36) Pullet even reminds Jeremiah that he had put quite a scare in them the night they attacked Dolly and that this just them kicking back a little. He even reveals that Basca’s aunt wants him arrested. At the same time he tells them all this, his hand is trembling. Jeremiah tells Pullet that he must understand that they pulled Swede out of her own home, threatened her, and put their hands on her. Besides, Pullet knows Finch’s past. He had been in the Reformatory for attacking a teacher. Then, he joined Tommy who had quit school and their reign of terror over the town began. Pullet promises to see them in the morning, but Reuben sees he’s afraid and that he’s no good to them in this escalation of the war. Pullet does come by the next morning, but insists that the boys said they were just playing. He can’t look at any of them in the eye.
Meanwhile, Swede says nothing to Reuben about her ordeal, just plays very roughly with an old doll or opposite to that, gently rocks it. That’s when her blouse rides up, and Reuben sees the bruises from finger marks down low on her side. That night, the doll is nowhere to be seen and Swede is at her tablet writing. That’s when Reuben knows she is killing off her character, Valdez.
To try to help Swede through her ordeal, the family makes a bigger deal of her birthday than normal. They wake her up with Dad softly singing “Happy Birthday,” and all of them bringing her presents. She opens Reuben’s first - a paperback western by Frank O’Rourke. Then comes her father’s present - a typewriter, black as a Franklin stove, and a ribboned ream of 20-pound bond paper. The looks she gives her father are ones that he hopes we all may be paid with someday. Then, Davy silently brings in his present - a Texas stock saddle, fragrant and lustrous on his shoulder. He tells her that someday she is going to need it. The spell of the West first begun by Zane Grey has now thrown Swede for a loop. He had bought it from a farmer who had bought it from migrant worker who had traded his horse for a Dodge. He had kept the saddle out of sentiment. It has only one flaw: in the cantle, the leather had split and pulled apart. Davy admits his frustration that he wasn’t able to fix it. It matters not to Swede, because it doesn’t matter for riding. Of course, she doesn’t have a horse, but that will happen eventually as far as Swede is concerned. It helps her forget the recent evils, at least for the moment.
The family is just enjoying breakfast when Tin Lurvy shows up. He is a traveling salesman who they all find annoying, but who Jeremiah cannot seem to treat with anything but respect. Unfortunately, he is a difficult man to like. He is a physically ugly man who is very fat and smells, but his greatest annoyance is just his need to talk about one-quarter drunk. There is something about the man that brings out the Good Samaritan in Dad. Everyone knows it, including Lurvy and so the advantage is his. This time, he comes bragging about buying an Airstream trailer. The two boys leave Swede to serve cookies and milk in the kitchen and head out the door to hunt. They’re silent for a while until Davy asks Reuben if he’s seen Swede’s bruises. Davy also asks his brother if he thinks Dad’s afraid. Reuben insists that Dad couldn’t be afraid since he had beaten them so badly in the locker room. However, he realizes that Davy is concerned that Dad might be afraid. His final question for Reuben is, “You think God looks out for us? You want Him to?” Reuben just thinks it’s an oddball question.
They also have a strange encounter in the timber that day. They come across a tramp, curled up hound-like beside a ruined fire. He is sound asleep, a man in his early thirties, but what looks like decades of grit in his face. Reuben says, “I remember the smells of cold fire, and old sandwich meat, and another that was new to me then - a sorrowful taint as of long disuse. The smell of a room not opened in years.” He doesn’t know why he mentions the tramp at this point in his narrative, except that he may have been a kind of harbinger, just like the sky telling of winter, of the Lands adrift, pushed off course, gone wayward.
That night, Swede serves them her favorite supper, red-potato chowder, made by Dad. To them, it is the king of soups, but there’s only enough in the pot for the four of them and Lurvy is still there. Tin Lurvy takes a generous portion and then Dad offers him a second helping. The family all has generous portions themselves and second helpings besides. By the time dinner is over, Lurvy has had five or six helpings. Reuben wonders if he is the only one who notices how many bowls of soup are served from that small pot. “Make of it what you will.”
Sometime past midnight, Reuben awakens to the sound of someone in their house. Davy is asleep and so is Dad and Reuben hears real footsteps. They come forward up the stairs and stop at Reuben and Davy’s door and he hears someone’s had on the knob. Suddenly, he hears Davy whisper, “Switch on the light.” There is Israel Finch standing in the door with a baseball bat in one hand with Tommy Basco all asquint behind his shoulder. Davy is now sitting up in his bed with his Winchester comfortably in his arms. It is fair to say that Israel had no chance. When he lifts his bat, Davy fires, and Israel falls backward into Tommy. Davy fires again, and Tommy falls to his stomach, his hand trying to pull him to the door. Meantime, Dad has awakened and come upstairs, pushing Swede into the bathroom so she can’t see any more. Davy places his rifle against the back of Tommy Basco’s head while the boy cries out against what Reuben thinks are all the devils in hell waiting for him. Then, Davy fires again and Tommy relaxes. He steps over the bodies and leaves the house while Reuben and Swede wonder, “And when he did know just what he’d done? . . . When did it come to Davy Land that exile is a country of shifting borders, hard to quit, yet hard to endure, no matter your wide shoulders, no matter your toughened heart?
This is, of course, one of the most devastating chapters of the book. Even though Reuben had felt the situation in the locker room was the one that changed their lives, the shooting of Finch and Basco will do more than just change their lives. It will send them on a journey whose return will assure that life will never be the same.
Note that there are several examples of the miracle motif and the dream motif. Also, Swede’s epic poem comes to reflect the events that they have witnessed so far and will witness in the future.
Clapsaddle, Diane. "TheBestNotes on Peace Like a River".
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