By the time Pilar, Maria, and Robert Jordan return to camp, it has already begun to snow. Pablo predicts that a great deal of snow will fall. Inwardly, Robert Jordan briefly feels enraged and disgusted by his mission and the whole war, but he quickly calms down. Pablo tells Robert Jordan that he used to take care of horses for Finito, Pilar’s former companion, who was a bullfighter. Pilar tells a story about a time when one bull hit Finito particularly hard during a fight. Finito made a scene at a dinner in his honor that was held after the bullfight. That winter, Finito died.
After Pilar finishes her story, Rafael returns from his watch and makes a report. Fernando volunteers to take Robert Jordan to pick up Anselmo, who is watching the road.
Despite the snowstorm, Anselmo still mans his post. He watches Fascist soldiers who are headquartered inside a sawmill across the road. He realizes that the soldiers are poor peasants just like him. He remembers the first time he killed a man, which was during a raid that Pablo organized.
Meanwhile, inside the sawmill, a corporal and three Fascist soldiers talk about the snow and the superiority of the Fascists’ air power. Outside, Anselmo is cold and lonely and misses praying. Finally, Robert Jordan and Fernando arrive and escort Anselmo back to the camp. Robert Jordan is happy that Anselmo has stayed at his post through the snowstorm.
Back in the cave, Pilar tells Robert Jordan that El Sordo stopped by and then left to find more horses. Maria attentively waits on Robert Jordan, who is pleased and touched that El Sordo has brought him whiskey. Pablo, drinking in the corner, alternately insults Robert Jordan and voices mournful thoughts. In particular, Pablo expresses regret for the massacre of the Fascists in his hometown.
To defuse the tension, Primitivo and the other men ask Robert Jordan questions about his job teaching Spanish and about American social policy. Robert Jordan tries to provoke Pablo into a fight, thinking it would be an opportune moment to kill Pablo and not have the other men turn against him. Pablo refuses to take the bait, however. Agustín hits Pablo several times in the face and calls him a horse-lover, but Pablo remains calm. Finally, Pablo goes out to check on his horses.
While Pablo is outside, the group in the cave discusses what to do with him. Rafael suggests selling Pablo to the Fascists, but the rest agree that he should be killed. Robert Jordan volunteers to do it that night. At that moment, Pablo returns, grinning, and asks if they were speaking about him. He resumes drinking wine. He announces offhandedly that he will help with the bridge operation. Pilar indicates to Robert Jordan that she is sure that Pablo overheard them discussing the plan to kill him.
Hemingway uses the character of Finito both as a foil for Pablo and to illustrate his deep appreciation for Spanish culture and the art of bullfighting. Finito’s bravery in the ring despite his fear of the bulls reinforces Hemingway’s theory that, because bullfighters face death in their daily lives, they get used to their fear of death and conquer it. Finito is thus a prime example of the Hemingway bullfighter—one who, by nature, has fears like anyone else but still knows how to act bravely. Indeed, Finito’s natural fear only makes him more courageous in having become a bullfighter. Hemingway’s theory extends to all Spaniards: because Spaniards often see a man facing death in a bullfight, they learn to face their fear of death. No longer crippled by this fear, they are able to live fuller lives. In this regard, Finito is a foil for Pablo, who fears death. By comparing Pablo to the bulls that Finito used to kill, Pilar explicitly contrasts Finito’s bravery, learned with difficulty in the bullring, with Pablo’s temporary fierceness, which is fueled more by wine than any real bravery.
The similarity between the Fascist guards at the sawmill and the Republican guerrilla fighters shows the arbitrariness of the line that divides the two sides. The soldiers at the sawmill discuss the same topics the guerrilla fighters discuss—the weather, evil omens, the enemy’s planes. Like the guerrilla fighters, the Fascist soldiers rely on nature to keep track of time. The ordinary quality of these conversation topics underscores the Fascist soldiers’ humanity. As Anselmo notices, the Fascists are peasants just like him. He realizes that the soldiers probably landed on the Fascist side only by chance, because they lived in territories the Fascists controlled. Chance has played a role in the selection of guerrilla fighters too: Andrés later reflects that he probably would have become a Fascist soldier if his father hadn’t been a Republican—and that it would have been just as well either way. Because the composition of the armies arises from an accident of fate, neither side can claim to have the moral upper hand. This lack of moral clarity makes the question of killing people—even within the context of war—particularly problematic. The sawmill scene specifically illustrates the unfairness, arbitrariness, and moral confusion of the Spanish Civil War and of modern war in general.
Anselmo’s longing for prayer highlights the fact that the Republican leadership has outlawed religion—a policy Robert Jordan sees as a betrayal of the Spanish people. In Robert Jordan’s view, the Republic has taken religion away from its people but given them nothing to replace the void. Older Spaniards like Anselmo, who have been religious their whole lives, now have no comfort in their old age. Later in the novel, Anselmo and several younger characters, like Joaquín, find themselves turning to prayer during traumatic moments. This turn to prayer is evidence that the Republic has failed them, since, in praying, they break a useless Republican law. In the end, religious faith and prayer prevail over loyalty to the state—in moments of crisis, people perform actions that reflect their true colors rather than skin-deep political allegiances.