The Virginian

by Owen Wister

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Chapters 19–21 Summary

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Chapter 19: Dr. MacBride Begs Pardon

Judge Henry introduces the clergyman to the narrator as Dr. Alexander MacBride and seems grateful that the narrator has arrived to rescue him from being the sole object of Dr. MacBride’s forceful personality. Dr. MacBride says that he wishes such skilful horsemen as the judge’s ranch hands might ride to church on a Sunday and says that he was shocked to see no churches in the hundreds of miles between Medicine Bow and Sunk Creek. As they go into the house, Judge Henry whispers dolorously to the narrator that Dr. MacBride intends to stay a whole week.

Over lunch, Judge Henry “pour[s] out his anecdotes like wine,” but the merriment is somewhat abated by the heavy style of Dr. MacBride’s conversation, upon which Molly remarks to the narrator. They discuss the Virginian, and Molly asks whether the narrator does not find him intelligent. He then perceives that the Virginian seems to mean as much to Molly as she does to him.

The narrator tells the company about their adventures on the journey to Sunk Creek and the resourcefulness of the Virginian in averting mutiny. Everyone approves of the Virginian’s actions except Dr. MacBride, who denounces his tall story about the frogs as a lie and therefore immoral. He says that it would have been better to have shot honest bullets than to have told lies, for there are worse evils than war. His moral self-righteousness once again casts a pall over the meal.

Chapter 20: The Judge Ignores Particulars

After Dr. MacBride has retired to his quarters, Judge Henry confides in his guests that, while he and the cowboys always enjoy visits from the bishop, Dr. MacBride may not prove quite such a welcome guest. His fault, says the Judge, is that he does not treat his fellow men as his brothers, which means that he does not even understand Christianity, let alone anything else.

The Virginian comes in to give his report to Judge Henry. The Judge says that he has heard the Virginian had some trouble on his trip, but the Virginian is reluctant to discuss this and says nothing about Trampas, even when the judge asks directly how he behaved. The judge is impressed not only with the way the Virginian handled the men, but with his reticence in discussing what occurred and his refusal to complain. He tells the Virginian that Roberts, his permanent foreman, has just left and offers the Virginian his job. The Virginian hides his emotion, as he generally does, but is clearly very pleased at the raise in status this new position entails.

Chapter 21: In a State of Sin

Dr. MacBride prepares to hold a church service in the hall at Sunk Creek. The narrator goes to the bunkhouse, where the cowboys are all washing and brushing themselves to prepare for church. They are laughing and joking, except Trampas, who lies on his bed reading a newspaper and taking “no pains to look pleasant.” Scipio enters and warns the narrator that there is certain to be trouble between Trampas and the Virginian before long, as soon as Trampas makes the first move.

The narrator and the cowboys attend the church service, which, as the narrator remarks, might have been frightening hundreds of years ago but is now merely dull and ponderous. Dr. MacBride dwells at length on the sinful nature of his congregation while their attention wanders, except that of the Virginian, who seems to be listening carefully. Back at the bunkhouse afterward, the cowboys ridicule the sermon through which they have just sat so...

(This entire section contains 877 words.)

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politely, but the Virginian has gone to the foreman’s house, where he will live from now on, while Trampas lies silent on his bed.

Because Judge Henry has several guests, the narrator is sharing the foreman’s quarters with both the Virginian and Dr. MacBride. The Virginian keeps waking Dr. MacBride throughout the night, saying that he is afraid sin is winning the battle for his soul. It is only in the morning, when the narrator bursts out laughing, that Dr. MacBride realizes the Virginian’s spiritual crisis has been an elaborate and time-consuming joke at his expense. He says that the Virginian’s conduct has been “an infamous disgrace” and leaves the ranch immediately.

As the narrator and the Virginian are discussing their mixed feelings about Dr. MacBride’s departure, Trampas comes to the door and sullenly congratulates the Virginian on his promotion to foreman. He is preparing to leave, since his enemy will now be his superior, “but the Virginian would not use his official position to crush his subordinate” and tells Trampas to return to his work.

The judge is delighted when he hears of Dr. MacBride’s departure and the Virginian’s part in it, declaring that he would promote the Virginian to lieutenant general “if the ranch offered that position.” Molly, by contrast, pretends to be shocked by the Virginian’s behavior but later tells him that she has never liked any man better than she likes him, though she expects to in the future. The last thing the narrator hears of their conversation is the Virginian’s retort that Molly should not “go betting on any such expectation.”

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Chapters 22–24 Summary