Summary and Analysis: "Spotted Horses"
This section opens by reemphasizing that no one knows if Flem owns the spotted horses or not. Ratliff points out that even Flem's cousin, Eck, does not know, which does not surprise Ratliff given that "Flem would skin Eck quick as he would ere a one of us."
By sun-up on the day of the auction, there is a crowd waiting for the sale to begin, and Flem is nowhere to be found. Although Ratliff doesn't draw special attention to this fact, twice in this section he notes that the auction's attendees have brought their "seed-money" with them, money intended to buy seeds for planting the crops that will support them for the next year. In this otherwise serene community, the auction appears to make people lose their sensibilities and gamble with their futures.
At first, no one will bid on a horse — perhaps because the horses act unnaturally wild and look untamable. The Texan, who is running the auction, appeals to Eck, but Eck is afraid to bid. To prove that the ponies are tame, the Texan jumps in among them, and he is lost — forever, it seems — among dust, clouds, and total confusion. When he finally gains control over one of the animals, the image of him amongst the horses involves animal imagery similar to the earlier images of the Snopeses: "His neck swole up like a spreading adder's . . ."
While everyone's attention is focused on the Texan, Henry and his wife, Mrs. Armstid, arrive. The Texan shows his skill as a con man when Henry orders his wife to "Git on back to that wagon." She pathetically pleads with her husband not to bid on a horse, and immediately the Texan recognizes the probably long-standing conflict of wills between the husband and wife, which he will take advantage of in order to coax Henry into buying a horse. The Texan's actions demonstrate that he is an excellent con man because he can so readily and easily pick out his victims. However, we hear Ratliff — and then Mrs. Armstid — emphasize that the family is in desperate financial straits, and, as we learn later, the Texan begins to sympathize with Mrs. Armstid's plight. She also evokes our pity when she whines that Henry "haint no more despair than to buy one of them things," and Ratliff confirms that she supports the family by weaving by firelight after everyone is asleep. Ironically, Mrs. Armstid's pleading with her husband reveals that the couple has five dollars, information that the Texan will remember when the bidding begins.
The Texan, summing up the situation, offers Eck one free horse if he will start the bidding on the next one. Understanding his audience's basic greed, he knows that a greedy person resents someone else's getting something for free. He is a sharp manipulator in the tradition of the successful con man. When the Texan accepts Eck's bid of two dollars for the next horse, he plays his audience quite easily by asking, "Are you boys going to stand there and see Eck get two horses at a dollar a head?" Summing up the situation, Ratliff points out, "That done it. I be dog if he wasn't nigh as smart as Flem Snopes." Ratliff admires the shrewd operator and the superb con man.
The bidding begins: Henry bids three dollars, and Eck, forgetting that he doesn't want one of the creatures, bids four; Henry offers a final bid of five dollars, the sum total of his wife's savings. The strong, brutal Henry prevails over his meek, subservient wife, who again pleads with the Texan not to take the bid and then threatens, "It'll be a curse onto you and yourn during all the time of man."