Lonsome Dove: NovelSumary:part3:chp95-102
Gus wakes, deliriously seeing faces and hearing voices from the past. When his mind clears, he sees a fat man dozing in a chair nearby, whiskey bottle in hand. Gus’s left leg has been amputated; the stump is bleeding. The doctor, Joseph C. Mobley, wakes up and hands Gus the whiskey. Gus hears someone playing piano across the way; the musician, Mobley says, is a consumptive prostitute named Dora. Gus asks Mobley to give the girl twenty dollars to keep playing. Mobley advises Gus to let him amputate the other leg because the infection has spread, but Gus refuses. “Why close your own case?” Mobley asks. He advises Gus to make his will, but he writes notes to Clara and Lorie instead.
That night, Call catches up to Gus. The bleeding stump and blackened leg make Gus’s condition clear. Call tries to persuade Gus to let Mobley amputate the other leg because Gus likes to sit, drink whiskey, and talk; he does not need legs to do that. Though the doctor says that it is now too late to amputate, Call persists, saying that Clara would take care of Gus; but Gus replies that Clara already has an invalid to look after. Call feels “tired and old and sad.” Gus asks Call to take his body back to Texas, to the orchard on the Guadalupe River where he and Clara used to picnic and where he was happiest. Call agrees to this outrageous request. Gus asks him to stop in Nebraska and tell Clara of his death; he leaves his share of the herd to Lorie. They speak of Newt, and Gus jokes about the shame of being killed by a primitive arrow in the day of rifles. Gus asks Call to put the sign he made for the Hat Creek Company over his grave and to give Pea his saddle, since Pea’s was destroyed in the fighting. He lapses into unconsciousness. Exhausted, Call sleeps in the chair by Gus’s bed. When he wakes, Gus is dead.
Analysis, Chapters 95–96
Even as one approaches death, the deep friendship between these two men, the novel’s central characters, is contentious and, for Gus’s part, comical. Like Wilbarger before him, Gus makes what the hands would consider a good death, joking to the end. Yet he makes several particular and disruptive demands on Call, whom he knows cannot help but comply, that extend the bonds of their relationship well past his own death. Why Gus makes these demands is a question readers can ponder. Is Gus at base self-centered? Is he jealous of Call’s company such that he claims it even after death? Is he trying to force Call to act, for once, for his own good rather than constantly looking out for others, a task that Call has tired of? Readers must assess Gus’s character to decide on his motives.
Mobley advises Call to forget about taking the body to Texas, but Call arranges to have a sturdy coffin built and packs the body in salt and charcoal for storage during the long Montana winter. Jake, Deets, and Gus are gone; only Pea Eye is left from their rangering days, and Call feels deeply tired. Still, he does his work, buying heavy coats and other supplies for the crew and hiring Hugh Auld to deliver them before he returns to the herd with the news. Newt rides behind the herd and weeps, while Dish sadly thinks of Lorie, waiting for Gus in Nebraska.
For Call, the adjustment to Gus’s absence is difficult. The long conversations that made him uncomfortable in the past will not happen again. He finds that he will miss them after all.
The herd approaches Fort Benton, where the soldiers, led by a Major Court, are amazed to see them. Court gladly buys two hundred cattle; his food stocks are low. The herd moves on north till the crew can see the Rockies in the distance. When they reach the Milk River, Hugh says that if they go further, they will be in Canada. Winter is coming, and the land is beautiful. Call does not want to stop, but it is time. Call no longer looks forward to working and has lost the desire to lead the men, but the crew has not yet stepped up, so he puts the men to work on lodgings and corrals.
Dish is angry that he is stuck in Montana doing carpentry, work he considers beneath him. He is desperate to get to Lorie before another man marries her. None of the men cares for carpentry until the first blizzard hits; after that, they work fast to build a log house with a fireplace and chimney. Call, however, stays in Wilbarger’s tent, no matter how cold the weather. The men build corrals, kill buffalo for meat, and round up wild horses to replenish the remuda.
One day, Dish claims his wages and prepares to ride for Nebraska, despite the coming winter. Jasper scoffs, “It’s that whore,” making Dish furious. Po provisions Dish, and Call gives him an extra horse. Call wonders at himself; usually, he would have made Dish stay till spring, but he no longer cares much what the crew does. Instead, he rides to Fort Benton to sell cattle.
As the weeks pass, Newt finds that he has a talent for breaking horses. Call watches him in proud silence. He takes Newt with him on the next trip to Fort Benton so that Newt can learn to negotiate prices. Newt stays at the fort for a time to work with the soldiers’ horses.
Analysis, Chapters 97–98
These chapters describe how the crew settles in on the new ranchland, building, establishing a hierarchy, and mastering new skills. Another departure occurs: Dish, having never gotten over his love for Lorena, dares the winter weather to make his way to her before another man discovers her, ignorant of her shattered emotional state. What is most interesting is Call’s attitude during this period. He is tired, withdrawn, and just done with work. He lets Dish go against his better judgment; he stays alone in the tent through the worst of weather. Only one thing gladdens him, and that is Newt’s maturation into a capable young man. Clearly, he loves his son. Clearly, Newt wants his father to claim him openly. The conflict that was seeded in the novel’s opening chapters has grown into a painful thicket of emotions for father and son by this stage of the plot.
After weeks of watching her, July proposes to Clara. She is making cake batter and does not reply; instead, she asks him to test the batter by licking it off her finger. Her eyes are cold, and he feels a fool. Three days later, Martin begins to run a fever, and Clara sits up with him, distraught at the thought of losing another child. She cries and holds July when he comes to check on her. Confused by desires he knows he should not be feeling in the presence of the sick baby, July leaves the room. The next morning, Martin is better, but Clara is angry. She told July how helpless and frightened she feels when a child is sick, yet he left her alone to lie in his bed fantasizing about her, she correctly suspects. He failed her test. Haughtily, Clara tells July to suffer for a year and then, if he likes, propose again. She is tired of his childish mooning and wants him to act like a man.
Not long after this, Dish arrives, having survived the winter journey, with the news of Gus’s death. Clara offers Dish work, and July quickly comes to resent the more capable man. Lorena, wrapped in an “iron grief,” ignores Dish. Clara watches them all. She comforts Lorie by assuring her that no woman’s love could have kept Gus from his wanderings. Over time, Dish, though still in love with Lorie, becomes attached to Sally and decides to stay on.
Analysis, Chapter 99
The Allens’ house is fraught with unrequited love as Dish arrives to find Lorie unresponsive, Clara scoffs at July’s idea of love, and Lorie succumbs to grief over Gus’s death. In fact, it is hard to find a case of happy, enduring love in the novel’s many chapters, as if love is a subject too complicated to cipher out. Clara, in particular, seems most in love with her children and her horses; both grow, learn, and become useful, unlike July—at least at this point in the novel.
Setting aside half of the profits from every cow sold to give to “that woman” annoys Call, but he does it, planning to buy Lorena out when he gets to Nebraska. He lives apart from the men in his tent, hunting but without desire to do so. The crew works well together now and no longer needs his constant supervision. At Christmas, they kill the blue pigs and feast. Jasper learns to cook well.
Early in the spring, fifteen horses are stolen. Call and Hugh have established relationships with the nearby Indians and sell cattle to them, so they wonder who the thieves might be. Call takes Pea, Newt, Needle, and Hugh to track the horses to Canada, where they find a drunk old man who claims to be a minister and a boy about Newt’s age who shakes with fear. Calls disarms both wearily, dreading what he has to do. The old man attacks Needle with an axe, wounding his arm, before Call shoots him. The boy, Big Tom, cries that his mother and sister are dead and his father insane; if he had not stolen the horses as his father told him to, his father would have killed him. He begs Call not to hang him and offers to work for him. Call decides to give the boy a chance, and for ten days he works hard and tries to be friendly, though the crew cannot warm up to him. Then Call, who has watched Big Tom closely, catches him preparing to leave with a horse and wallets he has stolen. Big Tom flees; Call shoots him off the horse and then supervises his hanging.
Winter passes. Call knows that the time to take Gus’s body to Texas is at hand, but he hates to leave just as Newt is becoming a young man. Call transfers more and more authority to his talented son; he is happiest when silently watching Newt work the horses. Soupy sees that Call is going to hand off leadership of the crew to Newt and demands his wages if the younger man is put in charge of seasoned hands. Call immediately pays him, which shocks him. He really has nowhere to go, so he gives his wages back. That night at dinner, he trips Newt, and they fight as Call watches. Soupy, the larger and stronger man, thrashes Newt, but Call is pleased that Newt fights back hard. The crew is fonder of Newt than Soupy and sides with the younger man. Soupy and Bert draw their wages and leave for Texas.
Other hands—from the fort, from Miles City—hire on, the grass grows lush, and the crew brands calves. The ranch is thriving; Call knows that he can leave. He feels so old and doubts he will return from Texas. But Call is torn about how to part from Newt. He sees no point in saying anything about Maggie after all these years. Newt is happy in his work but still thinks that Call will finally claim him and explain everything.
Call explains to Newt why he will be gone for a year and leaves him as range boss. Just before he leaves, he unsaddles Hell Bitch and gives the mare—the best horse he has ever seen—to Newt. He also gives Newt his gun, in a symbolic passing of the mantle. Call wants to speak but cannot and is ashamed, again, of his failure. Call, who prized honesty in other men, is dishonest about his son. Newt shakes with sadness; he sees the pain on his father’s face and wishes that Call would stop trying and just go. Call squeezes Newt’s arm hard; he feels that death would be easier than trying to talk to this boy. He cannot say Newt’s name. He can hardly get on his horse. Call tells Newt and other hands to tend to some cattle that are bogged by the river. He shakes Pea Eye’s hand and says, “Help Newt.” Finally, Call remembers his own father’s pocket watch, his only legacy from his father, and hands it to his bitter, despairing son. Newt rides away on Hell Bitch, feeling that his work is no longer of consequence. Pea, feeling old and frightened, returns to work as well.
Analysis, Chapter 100
In this eventful chapter, readers see the gradual coalescing of a community among the crew. The incident with Big Tom is evidence that the same kind of “civilizing” effect of settlement in Texas will occur in Montana as well, over time. But of course the central event of this chapter is the parting of Call and Newt. Call does what he is capable of doing; he passes on to his son everything that matters to him—his gun, his horse, his watch—but not the single thing that matters to Newt—his name. Readers who may have been expecting reconciliation now know that this plot conflict will not be resolved, except in further pain to both men.
In Miles City, Call finds that the coffin has been savaged by wild animals; the amputated leg is missing, but Mobley had the body repacked. Call buys a buggy, lashes the coffin to it, and heads for Texas. He passes some Crow who ask about the body. “We traveled together” is all Call will say. He passes into Wyoming, where he sees no one for eleven days. When he reaches the Platte, Call is still thinking of how he and Newt parted on the Milk River. Clara is not glad to see Call and thinks his errand foolish; he should bury Gus with her sons and husband and get back to his own son. Call is surprised that Clara is not flattered that Gus wanted to be buried in their picnic spot. She sobs on the mule’s neck as Call gives her the notes Gus wrote. July recalls how Gus killed the Kiowa and the men who had raped Lorie, and Dish is shocked to see how old, gray, and thin Call has grown.
That evening, Lorie stands silently by the buggy for hours. Clara’s letter asks her to watch over Lorie; Clara offers to read Lorie’s letter, but Lorie, who cannot read, declines, merely standing by the buggy till she faints and must be carried in. It is enough for her to have something from Gus in his own hand.
Clara fumes that Gus would force Call to be apart from his son. “A promise is words,” she tells Call, but “a son is life.” Call objects; he gave Newt Hell Bitch, his most valuable possession. Clara says that she will write Newt and tell him everything. She is bitterly sorry that Gus and Call ever met because they “ruin one another” and those around them. Call drives away.
Analysis, Chapter 101
Call’s journey back to Texas is the last of the novel, one he makes alone and in loneliness. He misses Gus, Deets, Pea Eye—he thinks fondly of what might be going on at the ranch, though when he was there he kept himself aloof from the other men. His parting from Newt troubles him; and Clara’s claim that Gus and Call ruined each other gives him another discouraging subject to think about as he travels the long distance to Texas. Readers can consider Clara’s claim, too. Is it true that the friendship between the two captains made them worse men, not better? What are the functions and claims of friendship anyway?
Clara’s contempt and his own regrets torment Call as he travels. In Kansas, word of the old man taking a body to Texas gets around among cowboys, soldiers, and Indians, but Call cannot explain to anyone why he honors Gus’s request. Finally, Call turns to Colorado to escape people’s curiosity. In Denver he sends a telegraph to Wilbarger’s brother. As he camps outside Denver, he gets a visitor—Charles Goodnight, whom he knew in the past. Goodnight guesses that the body in the coffin is Gus’s and asks no questions. He says that Blue Duck is about to be hanged in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, but that he has no time for hangings. They part.
Call decides to stop in Santa Rosa, a town overflowing with people who have come to see the notorious Blue Duck hang. A deputy managed to shoot the outlaw off his horse as he fled a crime; now Blue Duck, wounded, is heavily chained and guarded by nervous lawmen. Some people believe that Blue Duck cannot be killed and will escape. Call leaves the buggy for repairs and goes to the new, three-story courthouse with glass windows and a gallows on top. Sheriff Owensby has heard of Call and allows him to see Blue Duck, eager to show off his prize catch. Blue Duck knows that Call has brought his “stinkin’ old friend” to see the hanging and says he should have killed Gus. Perhaps, Call says, he would have killed you. Blue Duck says that an old woman taught him to fly; on the day of the hanging, he will fly away to kill more Rangers.
A huge crowd assembles for the hanging. As Blue Duck is being taken upstairs to the gallows, he breaks free and smashes through a window, falling to his death and dragging the deputy who shot him to his death. Owensby, furious at having his show ruined, insists that Blue Duck’s body be carried to the gallows and hanged.
Call drives on through the hot, dry plains, fearing fires and wondering whether the buggy and coffin will make it to Texas. One day Call is half asleep when he is struck by a gunshot—an Indian attack. He crashes the buggy in his haste. The wound is minor, but the coffin is broken and the buggy upended in the Pecos River. Having come this far, Call refuses to quit. He wraps the body in a tarp, cuts the buggy down to a travois, and moves on, complaining to Gus in absentia. Three days later, out of water, the mule stops, having “decided to die.” Call hitches the horse to the travois and presses on. His wound festers, and he feels tears in his eyes when he thinks of the crew in Montana, but he makes it the orchard on the Guadalupe. Call is so weak that it takes him all day to dig the grave and set up what is left of Gus’s sign. As he finished, a settler family drives up and wonders what the sign means. Call does not explain, but he worries that people will waste time seeking a livery when they see the sign. All he can do is to scratch Gus’s initials into the sign.
The task done, the promise kept, Call is at a loss as to where to go. He gets on the weary horse and rides to Lonesome Dove, arriving on an August evening. Bolivar, filthier than ever and deeply lonely, is in the Hat Creek barn, beating the bell with the crowbar. When he sees the Captain, he cries and clutches him in his arms. Call leads him to the ruins of the house, where Bol warms coffee. Call sees that the town has changed—the Dry Bean appears to be gone. He walks to town and encounters Dillard Brawley, who explains that Xavier Wanz locked himself in Lorie’s room to grieve and then burned the saloon down over his head. The church folks were angry because Xavier did not bother to roll the piano out first; now they must sing hymns to a fiddle. Brawley shakes his head. Xavier sat in that room for a month, he whispers: “They say he missed that whore.”
Analysis, Chapter 102
The novel’s final chapter ties up some story lines. Blue Duck, contemptuous to the last, dies for his crimes, but not without taking another life with him. Call, injured, exhausted, and anxious, keeps his promises to Gus and then has nowhere to go but home. His homecoming in Lonesome Dove is strange and thrusts him back into the role he rejected as he leads the distraught and purposeless Bol into the house. The heart of the town—the Dry Bean—is gone, and the last words of the novel speak to the power of beauty and love, a power that does not diminish over time or distance.