The Virginian

by Owen Wister

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Chapters 13–15 Summary

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Chapter 13: The Game and the Nation—Act First

At this point, after acting as an omniscient narrator since the beginning of chapter 8, the narrator inserts himself into the story again. He begins sententiously by asserting that “All America is divided into two classes, the quality and the equality.” The Declaration of Independence, he says, acknowledged the eternal inequality of man. Before this point in history, little men were born into high places, and great men into low places. By giving every man “equal liberty to find his own level,” America has acknowledged true aristocracy, which is the same as true democracy, declaring to everyone: “Let the best man win!”

These reflections occur to the narrator after an encounter with the Virginian in Omaha, Nebraska. He sees the Virginian sitting alone at a table in Colonel Cyrus Jones’s eating palace, an Omaha landmark. They discuss the menu, on which the descriptions of dishes from famous restaurants hide what neither has any doubt will be truly awful food. They try to order frogs’ legs and merely hear the excuse for the eating palace’s failure to provide this delicacy, and the narrator tells the Virginian about the culinary career of Lorenzo Delmonico, who introduced French cuisine to New York. He brightly suggests that Molly Wood might have a book about French food which she could lend him. The Virginian, however, calmly answers that he thinks not, since food is regarded as unimportant in Vermont, where Molly was raised.

The narrator notices that Trampas is among those who come in and greet the Virginian, who tells him that Trampas now has a job at the ranch. He also notices that the Virginian now looks different. He is still obviously young, but every aspect of boyishness has now departed from his demeanor, and he is wholly a man. He has also progressed in his career, as Judge Henry has promoted him to acting foreman, and he is now bringing a team of ranch hands back from the Chicago market, where they have been selling the judge’s cattle, to Sunk Creek. The two men go out and sit on top of a boxcar, discussing literature and poker, and speculating on which of Shakespeare and Sir Walter Scott’s characters would have been the best card players.

Chapter 14: Between the Acts

The narrator, having parted from the Virginian, continues on his journey. The heavy rain forces him to take a stagecoach, where he shares the carriage with two men called Scipio and Shorty. The three of them try and fail to catch the Northern Pacific train, which would have saved them twenty-four hours, and are lamenting this failure when they find that the Virginian has joined them.

The Virginian sizes up the two strangers and decides to offer Scipio a job on the ranch, an offer which does not extend to Shorty, though he decides to remain with Scipio in any case. The four men embark on a train headed west, and while they are going through Dakota (which, the narrator remarks, had not yet been divided into North and South), the Virginian kicks a truculent member of his party off the caboose of the train. The man sits quietly in Dakota, watching the train move into Montana, before heading slowly back into town.

Chapter 15: The Game and the Nation—Act Second

The Virginian observes laconically that jettisoning the troublesome man is “the only step I have had to take this whole trip” and that he had feared he would be forced to take action of this kind. Scipio is impressed with the Virginian’s decisiveness and...

(This entire section contains 911 words.)

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strength, but the man himself seems annoyed at having failed to bring all the ranch hands back to work for Judge Henry in perfect order. The troublesome character he kicked off the train was their cook, and the Virginian asks Scipio to replace him. He has recognized Scipio from Colonel Cyrus Jones’s eating palace in Nebraska, where he was cooking when the Virginian and the narrator ate there.

Trampas then opens the door from the railway car and asks after the whereabouts of the departed cook, whose name was Schoffner. The Virginian tells him that Schoffner has left, and no one expects him to return. He leaves the caboose and goes into the car with the other men, where the narrator, Scipio, and Shorty eventually join him. The atmosphere in the car is tense. The men do not know what has happened to Schoffner and are suspicious of the narrator, with his fine clothes and Eastern air. To add to the tension, gold has recently been found at Rawhide, and many men are contemplating going there to try their luck as prospectors instead of continuing their journey to Sunk Creek. Trampas refers directly to this and seems to be inciting the cowboys to desert the Virginian and become gold prospectors in Rawhide, but Scipio, who has experience of mining, defuses the situation.

As night falls, the men lie along the shelves of the caboose, and the narrator quickly goes to sleep and does not awake even at the stops. The one time he does wake, he sees the Virginian sitting in the doorway, looking out at the moon. He looks round the shelves at the sleeping cowboys and thinks they look rough but, apart from Trampas, not untrustworthy. The Virginian notices the narrator’s wakefulness and motions for him to go to sleep, which he soon does.

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Chapters 16–18 Summary