Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 511
Flem Snopes returns to Frenchman’s Bend after an absence of many months in Texas, accompanied by Buck Hipps and a string of wild spotted horses. The horses are confined in a lot next to the town hotel and put up for auction. On the day of the auction, people from the farms and surrounding countryside gather around the lot but at first are generally reluctant to bid on the animals, which have several times shown that they are unbroken and frankly dangerous. Hipps taunts the audience to no avail but finally succeeds in getting the auction going by giving Eck Snopes one horse for free if Eck will agree to purchase another for five dollars. At this moment, Henry Armstid arrives and demands to be allowed the same terms as Eck, but ends up bidding five dollars for another of the wild animals. Mrs. Armstid begs Hipps not to take her husband’s money because it is the last five dollars they possess.
The auction proceeds until all the horses are spoken for and Hipps has collected all the money. When Mrs. Armstid renews her plea, Hipps tells her that she should apply to Mr. Snopes on the following day for the money. In the meantime, the new owners of the horses have gathered to put ropes around the necks of their latest purchases, but the lot gate is left open, and the horses escape and go running through the town and on into the countryside. One of Eck’s horses encounters the Tulls crossing a bridge and causes Vernon Tull to fall off his wagon and receive serious, though not fatal, injuries. The rest of the horses, with the exception of the one that Eck purchased (which is upended and breaks its neck), escape, and no one is able to retrieve either his horse or his money. Mrs. Armstid applies to Flem Snopes for the five dollars promised her by Hipps, but Snopes assures her that he never owned the horses and that he does not have her money—although the story is generally disbelieved by everyone in the town.
Ultimately, court suits are brought against Flem and against Eck for reckless endangerment and for damages suffered as a result of the horses’ having gotten loose. None of the suits is successful, however, since ownership of the horses is denied by Flem (with another cousin’s corroborating testimony), and the judge rules that since the horse that did the damage to the Tulls was given to Eck and his possession of it was never established (since he never actually was in control of it), in the eyes of the law, Eck technically never owned the horse and thus could not be held liable for any damage inflicted by the animal. The story comes to an end with the adjournment of the court and the judge in exasperation, but with Flem presumably having received the profits from the sale of the horses—although, as another Faulkner character, V. K. Ratliff, might have said, “That ain’t been proved yet neither.”
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