The Ox-Bow Incident: Novel Summary: Chapter Two
Farnley is ready to ride off and get the 'sons-of-bitches' on his own. An old man, Davies, stops him. Osgood, the preacher, beseeches them not to form a lynch mob and says they should act 'in a reasoned and legitimate manner' and 'not as a lawless mob'. He also says they are savages.
Croft thinks Osgood talks without conviction and believes the men are delaying looking for the culprits because of the fear they might know them. Moore tells Farnley they will organise a posse, which is a legalized group (as compared with the illegal lynch mob).
Justice is then discussed by Bartlett as he questions the fairness of the legal process and pushes for the idea that if they 'do' this job, it is one they will not have to do again. The fear of being perceived as not conforming is broached as Croft describes how the men have moved away from him and Gil, so they cannot draw attention to themselves. Farnley continues to sit on his horse waiting to leave, and Croft describes him as becoming 'a hero' in that he concentrates their purpose. In retrospect, Croft wonders how Barlett 'succeeded so easily' in convincing the men: 'None of the men he was talking to owned any cattle or any land. None of them had any property but their horses and their outfits .'
Further discussions follow as Osgood persuades Davies to try to persuade the men not to seek vengeance. Smith, the town bum, then causes friction as he insinuates the 'neck tie party' (that is, the lynching) could be Moore's and plays on the worry that one of their 'own' could be guilty.
Gil and Croft return to the saloon as they wait for the others to get guns; Farnley remains on his horse. Gil remembers seeing three men lynched from the same limb of a tree. This had been organised by an official posse and the accused were charged with holding up a stage coach and the driver was shot. Gil recalls how one of those to be lynched was a boy who cried and told them he did not do it. Croft then tells Gil that they have to watch themselves. By this he means they have to join in and not draw suspicion because they could get the blame for Kinkaid's murder.
Bill Winder appears on a mule and is described as such: 'He believed in action first and make your explanation fit.' Gabe Hart, who is Winder's ostler, also arrives and is described as weak-minded and childish. Winder's position is made clear when he tells Davies he would string up his own brother for rustling. Davies continues to try to bring caution to the proceedings. Davies, Winder, Gil and Croft sit down together, although Croft would have preferred not to. Gil agrees with Winder that they should set off as soon as possible. Croft kicks Gil under the table.
Davies wants a posse organized; that is, a legalized group who can apprehend the guilty party. Winder disagrees and promotes the idea that men 'like us' should take the law into our own hands. He also states that it is cowardly to wait. A further discussion ensues as Davies asks Winder what 'real justice' is. When Winder responds that it is when everyone gets what is coming to him, Davies asks who should decide the punishment: 'But Davies wasn't being just smart. He let his clincher go and made his point, mostly for Gil and me, that it took a bigger "we" than the valley to justify a hanging, and that the only way to get it was to let the law decide.' Davies argues that a lynch mob, rather than a posse, would weaken the law and that the secrecy of lynching demonstrates that the men involved recognize it is wrong.
Davies wants Croft to go with Joyce in order to bring Risley and Judge Tyler back to the group. Davies does not want Mapes, who is Risley's deputy, to be involved as he regards him as a bully and not a leader. Croft is reluctant, but eventually agrees to go with Joyce to Judge Tyler's house. The fear of being deemed a coward is pondered over by Croft. Joyce explains that the men will wait as people like to have scapegoats: to have someone to blame.
At Judge Tyler's house, it is explained that Risley is away, but his deputy Mapes is present. Mapes is asked to leave the room and Joyce explains how Davies wants a posse sworn in. Tyler backs out of the demand and says that this is a job for the sheriff. On his return to the room, Mapes says that he will deputize the men, but is told by Tyler that only Risley can do that. Croft leaves and says that he will tell Davies that the judge is coming.
On the journey back to the men waiting at the saloon, the townsfolk and their reactions are observed. At the saloon, Smith is attempting to bully Sparks, and Sparks says he should come if Osgood is not. He realizes that Smith has been joking, but still insists on coming along.
Other members of the group are introduced, such as Ma Grier, and described (as with Tetley and his son Gerald). Judge Tyler and Mapes appear and Davies continues to try to persuade the group not to hunt the criminals down illegally. Tetley is dressed in his old Confederate uniform and is with Gerald, Nate Bartlett and Amigo (Tetley's Mexican hand). Tetley says that Amigo has seen the men presumed guilty of rustling and murder. Amigo explains that he did not recognize the three men (so they are outsiders) and they had cattle sporting Drew's brand. Mapes deputizes the men, although the judge has just told him that this is illegal. The chapter ends with the group riding off. Davies is also going to join them.
More characters are introduced in this chapter as the lynch mob expands. These include two key ones, Gerald and his son. This space is useful in forming the backdrop for the forthcoming action, in particular the events of Chapter Four.
This chapter is constructed on the theme of waiting. This expectancy is a plot device in terms of maintaining the tension. It also typifies the group's indecision without a leader to organize them, as Joyce points out, and their fear of straying from the pack. Rather than act differently to the group, the majority of the individuals are characterized as wanting to conform to whatever the others do. Ironically, this waiting, for guns, for a leader, for a decision, is countered most notably by Davies as he attempts valiantly to persuade the men to wait for the sheriff, Risley. He also does not want them to act in haste and make regrettable decisions.
There is also an analysis of justice here as Davies argues eloquently, and logically, with Winder about who has the right to decide the enforcement of a punishment. Further to this, it is clear that this group are acting illegally. This point is emphasized several times, and is acute when Mapes deputizes the others, although he has been told this is forbidden, and even cites the oath inaccurately.
In the portrayal of Smith, his exaggerated characteristics, which include bullying and manipulating, come to symbolize the thoughtless bravado of the group. His personality is typically loathsome and is an emphasized, but accurate, symbol of what the lynch mob represents.