The Judge is lying in his bed, and has just died; the reader and he both are not yet aware of this fact. He is in his own bed, surrounded by the doctor, Lucius Peabody, and Chlory and Jake, his black servants. All of a sudden, Chlory begins to wail, and neither she nor Jake hear him when he tells her to stop. The doctor, too, seems to ignore him.
The Judge leaves the house, realizes he is still in his pajamas, and immediately is in his overcoat. As he thinks of things he wants, like shoes and a hat, they appear on him. All of a sudden there is another man there, the young groom. The young groom has died on his way to his own wedding, after turning his carriage to avoid hitting a child in the road. The young groom bemoans having to leave his wife before marrying her, and assumes the Judge is also waiting for his wife. But the Judge says, "If I were looking for anybody, it would probably be my son," who was ten when he died. The young groom suggests, "Look for him here," but the Judge laughs and does not respond.
Then the Judge is shocked to see his old friend, Mothershed. Mothershed says, "So they got you here, too, did they?" meaning "the preachers" and "the Jesus shouters" whom he blames for landing him where they are. The two men remember how they used to sit in the Judge's office "on those afternoons, discussing Voltaire and Ingersoll." Then Mothershed confirms to the Judge that he committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. He assumes that the Judge has "come here looking for that boy," but the Judge says quietly, "No." Mothershed mocks his friend for being agnostic, saying, "You don't seem to want to know as much as you want something new to be uncertain about."
Mothershed points out Ingersoll, sitting on a bench. The Judge, "absorbed in the cigarette" he holds, describes how in his life he replaced God with rationalists like Ingersoll, Volatire, and Montesquieu. Now he is searching for truth and begs Ingersoll to help him decide between God and rationale saying, "Give me your word now. Say either of these to me. I will believe." However, Ingersoll replies only, "Believe? Why believe?" The Judge describes his love for his son, and how the pain he suffered after his son's death from falling off his pony gave him the need to seek truth. He pulls out a picture of his son to show Ingersoll, and begins to muse while looking at it.
The Judge relates how he used to hurt his sickly mother by going out to play instead of staying with her, and how she died when he was fourteen. He describes how he used to watch his son ride all the time, holding the picture in one hand and his unlit cigarette in the other. Ingersoll merely says, "Go seek your son," not answering the Judge's plea of "And you can give me your word. I will believe." The Judge becomes frustrated since Ingersoll will not tell him whether he will find his son, crying out:
"You mean, you cannot give me any word? That you do not know? that you, yourself, do not know? You, Robert Ingersoll? Robert Ingersoll?... Is Robert Ingersoll telling me that for twenty years I have leaned upon a reed no stronger than myself?
That read is the teachings of men, like him, rather than that of God. Now Ingersoll tells the Judge to go to the young woman who has just passed by them with her son, and to "look into her face." The Judge admits that "I, of all men, know that proof is but a fallacy invented by man to justify to himself and his fellows his own crass lust and folly. It was not proof that I sought."
In his encounter with the young woman and her son, the Judge's rationalism prevails over his faith. The boy, who has stigmata on his hands and feet and who is playing with toys of Roman soldiers, is obviously a symbol of Christianity - however, in the Judge's rational mind he has been reduced to a crying child, who has been injured by playing with other children. When the Judge tells the woman about his own son and shows her the picture, she recognizes him, saying, "Why, it's Howard. Why, we see him every day." The Judge asks her how old the pony is, and she says it is a young pony. This allows the Judge to notice a logical inconsistency: "You see, by that token, the pony would have to be thirty years old. That pony died at eighteen, six years unridden, in my lot. That was twelve years ago. So I had better get on."
Now the Judge goes to the cemetery and kneels beside Howard's grave, next to his own, which is being prepared. He speaks to Ingersoll about why he cannot see his son, saying:
"You see, if I could believe that I shall see and touch him again, I shall not have lost him. And if I have not lost him, I shall never have had a son. Because I am I through bereavement and because of it. I do not know what I was nor what I shall be. But because of death, I know that I am."
The Judge returns to his characteristic cynicism, complaining to himself that it was getting late, and Jake should be mowing the lawn. He enters his house again, and dresses in his clothes which have been pressed. He is annoyed by the "droning voice" he hears inside his house. He lies down to rejoin the body that the living are celebrating a funeral around, saying, "Gentlemen of the Jury, you may proceed."
The reader senses that the Judge is dead before he himself is sure of it, lending an air of dramatic irony to much of the story. The reader knows that something is amiss as soon as the Judge's shoes, hat, and handkerchiefs appear of their own accord. Since from the very first scene, the Judge's personality is so dominating, the reader accepts what is happening inside the Judge's mind as reality.
As the story unfolds, awareness of his death gradually dawns on the Judge. He is not totally oblivious to it in the beginning, as he takes comfort in being "spared that uproar of female connections which might have been my lot." As he leaves his house, his face is "quiet and quite intelligent, with a faint and long constant overtone of quizzical bemusement not yet tinctured with surprised speculation, not yet puzzled, not yet wary. That was to come later." After talking with the young woman, he heads for the cemetery, thinking, "At least I know where I am going... which I did not seem to know before."
The Judge doesn't ever realize what the reader knows, that people and animals don't age after death. In his conversation with the young groom, the Judge speculates of his son, "He would probably be about your age. He was ten when he died." When the woman with the young son recognizes the Judge's son and says he rides a young pony, the Judge points out that the pony should be thirty years old. He uses rationale to deny the faith that is there within him, escaping from the truth when it presents himself to him. Time does not exist in this place inside the Judge's head, but he does not allow himself to forget that principle of his reason in life.
The symbol of the match represents the Judge's inability to find anything beyond himself in this halfway world between life and death which, the reader knows, exists inside the Judge's mind. Everything else he wanted for comfort, like an overcoat and shoes, appeared for him; however, he cannot get a match to light his cigarette. As he talks to Ingersoll, "the paper about the cigarette" becomes loose, and eventually the cigarette falls apart. His holding onto the cigarette symbolizes his failing hold on the external world, and to light that cigarette would bring illumination of the beliefs and questions he had while alive. However, no illumination is to be found.
After getting dressed in his burial-ready clothes, the Judge says to Ingersoll, "Ah, this is best, after all. An old man is never at home save in his own garments: his own old thinking and beliefs; old hands and feet, elbow, knee, shoulder which he knows will fit." These words assert what the Judge has decided to continue believing: meaning can only be found in living, not in death, and intellect is inseparable from the body.
"Mountain Victory" was first published in 1932 in Saturday Evening Post as "A Mountain Victory." It was retitled for its publication in Doctor Martino and Other Stories.
"Beyond" was first published in September, 1933 in Harper's. It was rejected twice in 1930, when Faulkner originally circulated it. He rewrote it, taking pains to make sure it was clear that in the last paragraph, the Judge was arranging his body for his ultimate sleep.
Faulkner did not think this clarification was necessary, and became frustrated. In a letter to Ben Wasson, his first agent and editor, Faulkner said of the story: "It is a tour de force of esoteria. It can't be anything else. I have mulled over it for two days now, without yet seeing just how I can operate on it and insert a gland."