The old Coriscan Balducci is an officer of the law who follows orders; the realm in which he lives is outlined clearly for him. In contrast, Daru, who is French but has been born in Algeria, lives in an inscrutable realm, without clear outlines of what his behavior should be and what may happen to him. Despite their differences, however, the two men are friends.
After Balducci rides up with an Arabic man whose hands are bound to a rope behind the gendarme's horse, he turns his prisoner over to the schoolmaster. He gives Daru the order to turn the prisoner over to the authorities in Tinguit. But, Daru refuses to turn the man over.
"It's an order, son, and I repeat it."
"That's right. Repeat to them what I've said to you: I won't hand him over."
. . . "No, I won't tell them anything. If you want to drop us, go ahead; I'll not denounce you. I have an order to deliver the prisoner and I'm doing so. And now you'll just sign this paper for me."
"There's no need. I'll not deny that you left him with me."
. . . "I know you'll tell the truth. You're from hereabouts and you are a man. But you must sign, that's the rule."
Balducci then rides off. Daru treats the Arabic man with kindness although he has been told of the man's crime and is disgusted by it: "The man's stupid crime revolted him, but to hand him over was contrary to honor." Removing the ropes from the man's wrists, Daru accommodates the man with food and a place to sleep. The man asks him if he is the judge; then he asks why Daru eats with him. "I'm hungry," is all that Daru replies. Shortly after this conversation, the prisoner says, "Come with us"; his words remind Daru that Balducci has warned him that there might be an uprising. But Daru, who represents Camus's idea of individual freedom, does not wish to become involved in any way with rebellion—unlike Balducci, who will have to fight if this occurs.
The irony of Camus's narrative lies in the characters. For, although Balducci seems to be the "bad guy," as he is somewhat cruel to the prisoner by forcing him to walk all the way to Daru's with his wrists bound tightly, he returns to his usual way of living. Daru, on the other hand, is kind to the prisoner and offers him the freedom of choice. But, when he returns to the school, he finds a threat written on the blackboard, and his life put into danger.