Lonsome Dove: NovelSumary:part2:chapter36-45
On the filthy, stinking whiskey boat, Elmira impatiently travels north, thinking of Dee. For the most part, the whiskey sellers leave her alone. Only the chief trader, Fowler, speaks to her. Fowler is a hard drinker with a droopy eye always trained on the banks, watchful for Indians. He talks on and on in his hoarse voice.
Elmira is glad that Joe was old enough to send away. She never felt a maternal attachment to him and wants to belong only to herself. Dee is like that, too, she thinks, which is why she is comfortable around him.
The boat reaches the plains, which Ellie finds beautiful to watch. One morning, a fight breaks out between whiskey sellers and buffalo hunters; it ends when a whiskey trader falls screaming to the deck. The men go through his pockets and then unceremoniously dump his body in the river. Fowler tells Ellie that the fight was about her, yet the victor, a buffalo hunter named Big Zwey, does not try to claim her. He killed the whiskey seller to keep him from raping Ellie. He wants to marry her, according to Fowler, but for now he merely watches her constantly, as if he owns her. Ellie hates his gaze and stays as far from Big Zwey as she can.
Roscoe is headed, he hopes, toward Texas. So far, his trip has been rough: a herd of wild pigs spooked his horse, he got bogged in mud, he made poor distance, and he slept outdoors uneasily—just on the first day of travel. As he rides on, he sees a farmer pulling a stump—a woman, to Roscoe’s surprise, named Louisa Brooks. She asks him to help; they hitch Memphis, his horse, to the mules’ harness, and Roscoe whacks feebly at the stump with an axe. Finally, the animals yank the stump from the ground. Louisa mocks Roscoe because he can hardly walk after the effort. She farms alone because her husband is dead and her sons have moved away. She has pulled more than forty stumps already; her robust nature intimidates Roscoe. As payment for his help, she offers him dinner, which is cornbread, her only staple.
Over the meal, she interrogates Roscoe. Has he ever been married? In fact, he has never spent a night with a woman, but he does not tell her that. She asks him to marry her, and he is shocked because it is not the woman’s prerogative to propose. Louisa reasons that Roscoe is skinny and will be easy to bury, should he die. She has had eight kids but intended to have ten, and time is running out. Roscoe, feeling trapped by other people’s choices, can hardly choke down his cornbread. He pleads his duty: he must find July. Louisa considers this duty a waste of his time and doubts his courage. As he goes to sleep outside, she warns him to watch out for Ed, the big rattler whose presence she tolerates because he keeps the rodent population down.
Roscoe sleeps restlessly but wakes to find Louisa standing over him. She kicks off the blanket, grabs his “tool,” and has vigorous intercourse with him, with Ed nearby. Afterward, she asks Roscoe whether he is “feisty” or a “one-timer,” and he claims the latter; so they eat a breakfast of cornbread. Roscoe must now choose—Louisa, or Texas? He is tempted to stay with Louisa despite her scornful view that men are not good for much more than a “bounce,” but he feels he must carry out his orders. Perhaps, he says, he will stop by on his way home. Louisa is fine with that plan—unless she has found another man by then. Roscoe rides away with mixed feelings.
July is silent as he and Joe ride toward Texas. Joe sees that July is unhappy, so he keeps his many questions to himself. July moves fast to try to put aside his worries about Elmira, asking farmers along the way for news of Jake and fighting the urge to return home. Joe, unaccustomed to long days in the saddle, slows their progress, but leaving the boy behind would crush his spirit.
When they reach the Red River, they see a tall man with a horse and mule. The man unties the packages—even his bedroll—laden on the animals, tosses them into the water, and watches them drift away with unconcern. He waves at July and Joe, who help get his animals to shore. This man, Sedgwick, wears a tall hat and a beaver coat despite the heat. He has been traveling to collect and study insects; but tiring of this task, he has decided to throw away his gear and go preach in Texas. July thinks that Sedgwick must be touched and advises him on safer places to cross the river. But Sedgwick replies that it is July who has a problem with no solution. Amazed, July does not respond. Sedgwick offers to take the exhausted Joe with him, travel slowly, teach him about insects, and catch up with July later. July declines, since he would have to explain this decision to Ellie, and they ride on, leaving Sedgwick to admire the river.
Analysis, Chapters 36–38
Each of these chapters follows one character as he or she journeys toward a goal. Elmira wants to escape her husband, her son, responsibility to any other person, in fact. Roscoe carries bad news to July, despite an offer to lay aside his duty and try a new life. July and Joe travel in different moods; July is torn between his duty as sheriff and his frantic worry as a husband. Though the three travel separately, they are united in one sense: Each meets opportunities, in the form of other people, to change direction. And each turns away from these decisions, trying instead to return to a past way of living that may be lost now forever.
As the herd moves north, the demoralized men talk of other deaths they have witnessed. Jasper chatters incessantly to keep his fears away, causing Call concern for his sanity. Allen is withdrawn and cries often; Newt is exhausted and stunned by events. The Rainey boys are homesick, Pea’s fears of Indian attacks grow, and all the men except Call and Gus dread crossing the San Antonio River. Even the hard work of moving the herd, which is still not used to the routine, does not distract the distressed men. Gus wonders why they are taking the cattle to Montana, since no one is there to buy them. Call says that once they get the land, the buyers will follow. The herd crosses the San Antonio safely, and Gus praises the blue pigs, which swim the river easily.
Lorie finds that she enjoys traveling except for the storms; she and Jake have no tent. Deets teaches her to make fires and cook, and she grows tan and strong. Jake is next to useless, griping and harassing Lorie about San Antonio. She responds with silence. Disgusted, Jake leaves for San Antonio. That night, drunk, he rides back noisily, hoping to frighten Lorie or to catch her with a man. Jake is perplexed at how a smart man like himself ended up with a disobedient woman. He forces himself on Lorie, who looks beyond him to the stars during sex. Angry, Jake decides to take Lorie to Austin, sell her for sex, and then abandon her there. He loves her beauty but hates the power it gives her over him and the thought of other men having her.
Worried about the law finding him in town, Jake asks Lorie if she has ever seen a hanging and reveals that a fortune-teller predicted that he would hang. He also tells her what he knows about Maggie, Call, and Newt.
Lippy nearly dies in a wagon accident when the mules run off a creek bank. His coat gets stuck in the wagon seat, and he cannot get it off so that he can jump when the wagon upends in the creek. Gus ropes the wagon wheel and tilts the wagon so that Lippy can be cut loose. The wagon is smashed and the supplies lost in the river. This event is too much for Bolivar, who announces that he is returning to Lonesome Dove. He expects to be fired anyway; the accident occurred because he was dreaming about his daughters while driving and somehow fired his shotgun, which spooked the mules. Call gives Bol a horse, and the crew is sad to see him go. As Bol leaves, he feels bitter that Call did not try to talk him into staying. Back in Lonesome Dove, he resumes his habit of ringing the dinner bell with the crowbar, though no one is now there to respond to his summons.
Analysis, Chapters 39–41
In these chapters it becomes clear that not all of the travelers are up to the rigors of the ride north. Bol “washes out,” heading home to Lonesome Dove in regret, and Jake flees his uneasy camp to play in San Antonio. Others of the crew have close calls or experience something like shock in response to the harsh conditions of the trail. But Lorena, on the other hand, blossoms in the sun. Away from her enclosed room for the first time, she becomes strong in body and mind. Her change puzzles and irritates Jake.
Call and Gus ride to San Antonio to buy a new wagon and supplies and to find a cook. Call is discouraged; he has lost one man to death and another to a change of mind. They pass two small settlements on the way, and Gus comments that too many people are moving in, now that Texas is safer, thanks to the Rangers.
In town they buy two mules and a wagon and then hit a saloon, the Buckthorn, once owned by Gus’s acquaintance Willie Montgomery. The bartender, a young man with slicked hair, is slow to wait on them and complains that they are dirty. When he reaches for their money, Gus grabs his head and slams his face into the bar, then draws his gun and demands respect. Gus points to a photo of him, Call, and Willie as Rangers; then he tosses a glass into the air and shoots it. A gambler, Ned Ryan, confirms Gus’s identity just as the bar’s new owner, John, rushes into the room. When the young bartender insults Gus, Gus touches his gun to his head, and the young man faints. Willie, the offended owner says, sold him the bar and chased his runaway wife to Fort Worth. Johnny could not care less about the Rangers and threatens to call the sheriff if Call and Gus do not leave. When the sheriff, Tobe Walker, arrives, he is glad to see Call and Gus, with whom he rangered in the past; he refuses to arrest them and says that the town is on their side. As Call and Gus leave, they pass the unrestored ruins of the Alamo—forgotten, just as their rangering work has been.
Analysis, Chapter 42
In this chapter readers learn something important about the characters of Gus and Call. They are proud men—for a reason. Through their efforts, Texas has become safer for settlement; by their work, cities like San Antonio are growing. But the ingratitude and, worse, ignorance of their achievements galls them so deeply that even the calm, jokey, even-tempered Gus beats a young man for his disrespect. This incident points to a theme in the novel: Even in what readers may think of as the “wild west” days of the nation, civilization is creeping in, bringing both the good (the convenience and safety of towns) and the bad (the loss of wild, open places; the forgetting of the pioneer spirit).
Roscoe worries that he will somehow fail to find Texas. He meets four soldiers headed for Buffalo Springs; they ride and drink together till they reach the Red River. The soldiers tell gruesome tales of Indian attacks. Then they point Roscoe toward San Antonio and ride away. That evening, Roscoe sees an old man sitting outside a cabin. The man says that Roscoe can stay the night if he gets his own food and does not touch “the gal” he bought. A skinny girl cooks possum, and Roscoe trades whiskey for some. The old man drinks almost all the whiskey and goes into the cabin. Roscoe beds down outside and overhears the old man beat and threaten the girl as he forces himself on her. Roscoe wonders what July would do in his place.
In the morning, the old man snores on as Roscoe rides away, feeling bad for the girl. The next day, Memphis rides into a wasp nest as Roscoe drowses in the saddle, and Roscoe is badly stung. He stops to get the wasps out of his clothing—and looks up to see the girl, Janey, miles from the cabin. She has run away from Old Sam. She shows Roscoe how to make mud poultices for the stings and tells him that she knows the way to San Antonio. A girl guide is “highly irregular,” Roscoe thinks, but Janey can also catch small game and cook it. Old Sam will not pursue her because his horse is old and his knees are bad (she hit them with a frying pan for good measure), and she has no parents. Roscoe decides that she had better go with him.
Analysis, Chapter 43
Novels structured around journeys are rich with opportunities for authors to introduce new and often peculiar characters. One such is Janey, the wilderness-savvy girl who guides and feeds the hapless Roscoe on this part of his trip through Texas. Roscoe, who has never been married, passes from the capable hands of the farmer to those of this wild girl; readers may wonder how far he would have gotten without their assistance.
Past San Antonio, the country opens up, and the herd makes better time. At night around the fire, the hands talk, play cards, and complain about the food—they still have no cook. Call and Gus ride to Austin to find one. On the way they stop by a spring on the Guadalupe River, and Gus cries. In this place, Gus says, he and Clara often picnicked and talked. Gus does not tell Call that he proposed to Clara here, but she turned him down because she did not want to change her ways for him. Gus has been happier in this place than in any other.
They pass Lorie’s camp. Gus suggests hiring Lorie to cook, but Call says the men would fight over her because she is a whore. Gus scolds Call for his condemnation of whores and reminds him that he once had a whore—Maggie—who gave him a son. Call says that Newt could be any man’s son. Gus says that Newt takes after Call and that Maggie told him that Newt is Call’s son.
Gus sees that Lorie has a bruised eye. Jake has been gone for two days; he said he would not come back. Gus chooses to stay with Lorie, and Call, annoyed, rides on alone. He lets Hell Bitch run freely and admires her gait and strength. Suddenly, she bucks him off, but he keeps hold of the reins. He is proud that she was watching him, too, waiting for his attention to lapse so that she could try to throw him. Now she will bide her time again. Call finds that he talks aloud to Hell Bitch these days.
Lorie is glad to have Gus’s company. She feels bewildered: How could she have been so wrong about Jake? Should she have married Xavier? Gus tells her that her desire to get to San Francisco is misguided—she should be enjoying the little daily things, like sex, not waiting to be happy till she reaches some far-off destination. Gus bathes in the river, then asks for his gun as a large Indian rides up to water his horse. Gus knows of this man, Blue Duck, who has also heard for Gus. Blue Duck asks where Call is. He was told that he should kill both Gus and Call, but not only one of them. He threatens Gus and then rides off, leaving Lorie puzzled that Gus let this clearly dangerous man live.
Gus asks Lorie to pack her things and return with him to the herd for protection, telling her Blue Duck’s brutal history to persuade her. Lorie thinks she should wait on Jake, unless Gus will take her to San Francisco, but Gus is bound for Nebraska and Clara. Desperate, Lorie offers sex—the only bargaining chip she has. Tired of being dependent on men, she cries. Gus tells her to come with the herd to Denver, where he will buy her a train ticket to California. Angry, Lorie refuses to ride with him to the herd. He tells her he will send someone to protect her that night.