Gus assigns Newt the task of watching over Lorie, predictably irritating Dish. Call returns from Austin to announce that a cook will join them in the morning. Gus’s report about Blue Duck alarms Call, who thinks of the man as “a job left undone” and wants to know why Gus did not kill him. Gus claims that he was not sure that the man was in fact Blue Duck and expresses his worry about Lorie. Gus sent Deets to track Blue Duck, but Deets lost the trail and fears that the man may still be nearby. They divide the crew to watch, but Call is preoccupied because Gus brings up Maggie’s death, a bitter moment from his past. He recalls with discomfort how she needed him. He came to like her talk but could not stay with her. After she begged him just to say her name, he could no longer go back to her, a choice that nearly broke his friendship with Gus apart. Call was sure that Maggie’s attachment would pass, but when it did not, he considered leaving the Rangers to marry her. In the end he could not, and when she died, he spent a week alone with his guilt on the river. Newt reminds him of his inability to understand his relationship with Maggie and of his failure both to her and to his code of behavior. Her weakness broke his strength, and now he seems to himself a pretender—not a real leader of men.
Newt rides nervously to Lorie’s camp, thinking of what he might say to her. She tells him to go back to the herd, but he will not disobey Gus’s orders. He rides a little ways from her camp to watch, but to do so, he must tie Mouse and return on foot—something a cowboy hates to do. He leans against a tree, pistol ready, but drifts off. When he wakes up, cattle are running past him, and Mouse has been untied. Aware of his disgraceful failure, Newt cries and starts back to camp on foot. He runs into Pea, who is relieved to see him, fearing that he had been trampled because Mouse was riderless among the cattle. Newt thinks he might use this story to avoid blame.
In the morning, the new cook, Po Campo, arrives. A short, cheerful Mexican, Po refuses to ride animals, foraging as he walks near the wagon. He says that he himself is an animal and would not like to be ridden, a thought that puzzles Newt.
Analysis, Chapters 44–47
In these chapters the relationship between Gus and Lorie deepens as the older man tries to help the young woman let go of her old life and embrace new opportunities. Readers see that though Gus, like all the men around Lorie, desires her sexually, he also sees her as a person whose company is worth his time, sex aside. However, Gus may accord Lorie too much respect at this point in the plot; he agrees, against his better judgment, to her decision not to camp nearer the crew and herd, a decision that leads to Newt’s disgrace and Lorie’s suffering.
A critical character revelation in these chapters is Call’s feelings of regret over his treatment of Maggie; it explains his unwillingness to acknowledge Newt as his son. Call is such a silent man that it takes readers time to get to know him. Gus’s occasional barbs hint at Call’s internal conflict, but Call himself buries his feelings deeply.
Finally, an important character is introduced in these chapters: Po Campo, the opportunistic cook who will gradually become something of a sage among the crew.
Call suspects that Blue Duck made the cattle run to cover his activities but is glad to hear that Newt is all right. Newt and Po come to camp slowly, gathering bird eggs from ground nests, and Po makes omelets that please the crew. Po has an easy way with all the hands, despite his unnerving statement that his wife no longer makes good biscuits because he killed her for bad behavior. The herd moves out. At dinner, Po makes steak, stew, and fried grasshoppers in molasses, which the men try reluctantly and find delicious.
Jake rides up looking for Lorie, his horse in a sweat. Their camp gear is where he left it, but she is gone. Call is angry at Jake for bringing Lorie along and then leaving to gamble and expecting them to keep an eye on her. Gus senses that Blue Duck took Lorie, and Jake is astonished that Gus did not force Lorie to stay with the crew. Defensive, he tries to shift blame onto Gus, Newt, and even Lorie, who should have gone to Austin. Newt rides away in tears, and Gus leaves to track Blue Duck. The next day Jake is gone as well.
On the night the cattle run, Lorie lies awake, wondering when Jake will return. Suddenly, Blue Duck is standing before her with his gun. She realizes that she was stupid to rely on Jake. In his terrifying voice, Blue Duck orders her to get on her mare and ties her ankles to the stirrups. They ride through the running cattle, leaving no trail. Lorie’s fear of Blue Duck and anger at Jake soon give way to exhaustion. When they stop to water the horses, Lorie forgets to drink. The country is empty; there is no hope for rescue as the day grows hot and her thirst torments her. She half sleeps in the saddle till they arrive at another stream, where Blue Duck lets her drink and gives her a bite of jerky. He threatens a terrible death if she tries to run, then sleeps. Lorie is too tired to run and knows she would die of thirst if she did. She thinks she should have married Xavier.
They ride all night and day. Blue Duck knows Gus is tracking them and wishes he would hurry. He says that Monkey John will like Lorie’s blonde hair. Blue Duck promised “the boys” a woman, and he knows they will pay well for Lorie.
The next day, Lorie’s mare wears out, and they leave her. Riding behind Blue Duck on his bay, she sees that he wears a necklace of human finger bones. After another day, they abandon the dying pack horse. He leaves Lorie tied and returns after a while with a new horse that, he says, has to last only a day. It has no saddle, so he ties Lorie on its bare back—a new agony for her. When they reach the plains, four Indians from a scalping party ride up, handle her hair, and laugh—“fresh women” are hard to find on the plains. Lorie wants to die. At dusk, Blue Duck allows the four to rape her; then they tie her onto the horse again and move on.
Analysis, Chapters 48–49
These chapters narrate the kidnapping of Lorie from two perspectives. Among the crew, there is shared concern and guilt—Newt fell asleep at watch, Gus did not insist on Lorie coming back to camp with the crew, and Jake was off gambling and drinking in town. Only one of these men acts on his guilt, though—Gus immediately goes after Lorie. The other perspective is Lorie’s, and it is a perspective of suffering. In pain, thirsty, fearful, and exhausted, Lorie endures multiple rapes and longs to die, her nascent strength crushed by the ordeal. Blue Duck’s pitiless character is on full display; to him, Lorie is not human, not even desirable—just an object to be withheld or sold, as it benefits him.
July reaches Fort Worth and asks about Jake. He also posts a letter to Elmira, which Joe says she will be glad to get, though he knows it is not true. Joe enjoys traveling with July and wants to cheer him up. The postal clerk gives July with a letter from Peach, which tells him that Ellie is gone and that Roscoe is looking for him. Joe is not surprised that his mother left them; he knows her wandering ways. But July is perplexed. Should he continue to pursue Jake, wait for Roscoe, or go after Ellie? Joe says that Ellie probably went to look for Dee, who is not dead, as July had thought. They ride back north, looking for Roscoe. When July sleeps that night, he dreams that Ellie has returned. When he wakes, he cries.
A herd of cattle passes July and Joe on the trail, astonishing Joe with its size and noise. July rides to the wagon to ask after Jake and finds Wilbarger, reading Milton in the saddle. Wilbarger reports that Jake is headed this way with the Hat Creek outfit. He suggests that July camp here, put Joe in school, and wait on Jake. He hopes that July will catch and hang Jake because card cheats “undermine society.” Wilbarger offers Joe a job, which flatters the boy, who nevertheless feels that he must stay with July. July agrees to ride with Wilbarger to the Red River but does not explain why, if he is seeking Jake, he wants to ride north. When they part from Wilbarger, Joe wishes he had taken the job as July turns his horse back toward Arkansas.
Janey impresses Roscoe as she navigates the rough country and keeps them fed. At night, however, she cries over dreams in which snapping turtles chase and bite her. When they encounter soldiers on the trail, she wisely hides. One day Janey vanishes. When she reappears, she says that she has been watching two men who earlier asked Roscoe for tobacco. These men are mean, filthy, and armed, and they are lying in wait ahead. Janey leads Roscoe to a gully where they can hide. She takes the pistol and heads off in the rain. Then Roscoe hears a gun shot and runs toward the sound. The big man, Hutto, aims his gun at Roscoe, and the smaller man, Jim, pins Janey on the ground and tries to tie her hands. They force Roscoe to strip and take his clothes and money, giving Janey a chance to slip away. She flings rocks at them, accurately, from the darkness. Suddenly, July steps into the fray, summoned by the gunshot, pistol ready. He disarms and cuffs the thieves, and Janey, now that Jim cannot harm her, whacks him hard in the throat.
At dawn, they ride for Fort Worth to turn the thieves over to the sheriff, who will no doubt hang them. Undeterred, the outlaws spout threats, especially against Janey. Roscoe sleeps in the saddle, overwhelmed, as Janey walks beside him, holding the reins. She is ill at ease in Fort Worth, where the livery stable woman suggests buying her a dress. July and Roscoe catch up on events over beers, and July decides that finding Ellie is now his priority. Roscoe insists on going with him; the livery stable woman agrees to board Janey. Joe is glad of this; the resourceful girl, he feels, shows him up. Yet the next night, Janey follows the party on foot.
Analysis, Chapters 50–52
In these chapters July’s journey fractures as he must choose among three destinations and then interweaves, just in time, with Roscoe’s. Janey’s wily ingenuity again puts Roscoe to shame, and even Joe feels inferior compared to the resourceful, lively girl. Yet despite their success against the thieves and the end of Roscoe’s duty to find July, these chapters are marked by sadness and lost opportunity. July now pursues a woman who willfully fled their marriage, and Joe, out of a sense of duty to the grief-stricken July, turns down an offer to work for the capable Wilbarger. These decisions will, later in the novel, seem fateful.
The whiskey traders leave the boat and head across the plains in wagons. Because Elmira goes with them, so does Big Zwey, who watches Ellie for hours at a time. They reach Bent’s Fort, where only one woman, crazed over the deaths of her children, lives. Ellie wishes that she could ride away as a man can, that she should never have taken the whiskey boat. She wanted to leave July, but she fears the Bent’s Fort men. Fowler suggests that Ellie marry the big buffalo hunter “temporarily” for protection; then they can travel to Ogallala safely. Her pregnancy is showing now. Desperate, she tells Big Zwey that she will pay him to take her to Ogallala. He laconically gets a wagon ready, and they leave the traders, along with another buffalo hunter, Luke, a “weasely” man with spiky red hair. As they travel, the hunters kills buffalo and pile up pelts, and Ellie learns to drive the mules. Being alone with two men on the plains unnerves Ellie; but though both men watch her, neither touches her. She takes to talking to the mules.
Analysis, Chapter 53
In this chapter readers follow Elmira into an increasingly risky situation. This woman who so desperately wants to belong only to herself, to detach herself from the man she married, must rely on men she does not like or trust to protect her from men she fears. Readers can see that Ellie is a strong woman who, in better circumstances, could no doubt fend for herself—but not as the only woman for many miles on the prairie.
Big Zwey adds not only color but a note of comedy to the novel with his dog-like devotion to the woman he thinks he has married. He may be a silent and simple man, but he never harms and often defends the woman whom he watches so constantly.
Once Gus finds Blue Duck’s trail beyond the cattle run, he follows it easily and rides hard, full of guilt over what Lorie must be enduring. He suspects that Blue Duck will head for a place near Palo Duro Canyon; he and Call gave up the chase for the outlaw in that drought-struck area long ago. Gus has forgotten how vast and empty the plains are. He passes Lorie’s mare’s carcass. In the Quitaque plains, he sees dust devils and water mirages. One day, far off, he sees a “speck” that turns out to be Aus Frank, an old man pushing a wheelbarrow full of buffalo bones. Gus knows Aus: he once owned a store in Waco, but after he robbed a bank, he broke jail and fled. Aus now spends his days building huge piles of buffalo bones by the Canadian River. Gus gazes at the tons of bones bleaching in the sun and waits for Aus to talk. Aus finally says that Blue Duck killed his partner, Bob, and that Indians stole his wagon and ate his dog. Blue Duck laughed at Aus’s bone piles and said he would kill the old man when he was ready to.
Night comes, and both men sleep. Gus wakens to the sound of Aus dragging more bones up the piles. Gus promises Aus that he will kill Blue Duck and rides on, thinking of the days when massed herds of animals ranged the plains. He suspects that he is on a fool’s errand, but it is more interesting, after all, than a sensible life.
Blue Duck trades Lorena to Monkey John, an old, short, mean man, for buffalo hides, but her new “owner” is angry that Lorie will not speak and threatens to cut her tongue out. His partner, the skinny, crazy-eyed Dog Face, stops him to protect their “investment.” Monkey John then sits on Lorie’s chest and orders her to obey him and speak, but fear of Blue Duck has stolen Lorie’s voice. Blue Duck lets her alone, but the Kiowa who are in on the deal with Monkey John and Dog Face periodically drag Lorie away to rape her. She tries to learn not to hear Monkey John’s threats; filthy and exhausted, she expects to die and wishes she could will that death to happen soon.
One day Blue Duck brings whiskey, and everyone gets drunk except him and Lorie. Blue Duck then starts a dice game with the traders, Ermoke, and the other Kiowa. Blue Duck quickly wins all the horses, then all the livestock; then the Kiowa bet their half-interest in Lorie to get their horses back. When the youngest of the Kiowa objects to this deal, Blue Duck casually shoots him. He wins their stakes in Lorie but then offers to return them and their horses if they kill Gus. The traders and Kiowa squabble over who will kill the Ranger. Monkey John hits Lorie because she will not explain who Gus is; then he and Dog Face fight over their investment as Lorie realizes, with a small hope, that Gus is coming for her. She quickly hides this fact in her mind, expecting him to fail.