Chapter 99 Summary
As Chicken George continues his grieving for Mingo, he considers the differences between the two of them. Mingo preferred the company of the birds to the company of people. Chicken George is exactly the opposite; however, George truly does need someone to help him care for the birds (especially when he is away). Chicken George longs to train his Virgil just as Mingo trained Chicken George.
Chicken George finally makes his way, determined, up to slave row to convince Matilda and Kizzy. George won’t let either of them talk before he is through with his explanation. Chicken George brings up the point that if they don’t propose Virgil as a helper, then the next time George goes away with the master, Tom Lea is bound to force Virgil to go down there. If that happens, “Virgil be wid chickens to stay.” Chicken George explains that what he wants to do is to go ahead and simply teach Virgil to feed, water, and exercise the chickens only when George and Tom are away. Virgil can stay with the family whenever Chicken George is at home. Even though they are concerned about Virgil’s young age, the women agree.
Unfortunately, Virgil does not have the knack with chickens that Chicken George had at that age. In fact, Chicken George remembers his fascination whenever he would see one of the fighting cocks. He also remembers just sitting there contemplating how ferocious and beautiful these birds are. Virgil does nothing of the sort. He just does what he is told and then goes out to play. Chicken George is furious. He makes all sorts of attempts to spark Virgil’s imagination and inquiry about the birds, to no avail. Chicken George frantically hopes he has better luck with Ashford, George, and Tom. George can’t help being upset that Virgil is destined for a lifetime of drudgery in the field.
With the New Orleans trip canceled and summer coming up, there is nothing but routine work to do with the chickens. Chicken George finds himself getting angry at the old catchcock that Mingo kept as a pet for not telling everyone that something was seriously wrong with Mingo. George also begins wondering about that first chicken that Tom Lea won. Further, George begins to watch the males on the rangewalks and ponders what it means for them to be free. George watches the irritable roosters in the pens compared to the free roosters on the rangewalks. Chicken George marvels at the sight of the free cocks out in the open. Chicken George uses his skills to crow and call one of them to defend his territory. Sure enough, one of the free cocks comes quickly and in all its glorious fury to defend. Chicken George vows that this stag on the rangewalk will remain free all of its life. “It must remain there with its hens among the pines—untouched and free!”