The Virginian

by Owen Wister

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Chapters 22–24 Summary

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Chapter 22: “What Is a Rustler?”

Molly arranges to take a holiday and travel east with some friends of Judge Henry’s who have been staying at Sunk Creek. She parts from the Virginian, saying that he will have no spare time to miss her with his new responsibilities as foreman. The narrator draws a sharp contrast between her apparently heartless behavior to the Virginian and her weeping over Sam Bannett’s broken heart but says he cannot account for this, never having been a woman himself. When Molly arrives back in Vermont, Sam renews his addresses to her, but with the same lack of effect. Molly’s great-aunt shrewdly realizes that Molly has met a man who means more to her than Sam does, and Molly shows her a photograph of the Virginian, whom she thinks handsome but savage-looking. Later, the old woman reflects, “She is like us all. She wants a man that is a man.”

Molly’s great-aunt keeps her secret, but other members of her family also guess that there is now a man in her life and take it into their heads that she is going to marry a “rustler,” though they do not even know what this word means. It is not to be found in any dictionary, but one of them has heard an alarming rumor that the word denotes a cattle thief. “In a very few days, gossip had it that Molly was engaged to a gambler, a gold miner, an escaped stage robber, and a Mexican bandit.” When Molly returns to Bear Creek, she and the Virginian go riding, and she asks about his background. His brothers have remained in Virginia, and when he returns home, he always finds them talking about the same things. Only he is an adventurous spirit, determined not to let any chance pass him by. When Molly tartly replies that he seems to have lost many chances, he says that he will not be doing so anymore, “And you are the best I’ve got.”

Chapter 23: Various Points

Scipio visits the Virginian in the foreman’s house, as the Virginian, separated from Molly and Bear Creek by the winter snow, is pursuing his education and covering his fingers with ink into the bargain. They discuss the probable departure of Trampas and Shorty, who has fallen under the influence of Trampas. Scipio says that neither is any loss, but the Virginian speaks up for Shorty, saying that he is kind to animals, an attribute that always shows there is some good in a man.

When Scipio has left, the Virginian meditates on whether he can do anything to help Shorty. That evening, he talks to him and offers fifty dollars a month for some easy work in the stables. However, Trampas has convinced Shorty that he can make more than this, and he refuses. The Virginian comes close to firing Shorty but allows him to stay on as a ranch hand until spring, when, as both the Virginian and Scipio predicted, Trampas and Shorty leave the ranch together.

Chapter 24: A Letter with a Moral

When spring comes, the Virginian is too busy with his duties to ride to Bear Creek, so he writes a letter to Molly, the first he has ever addressed to her. This letter entails considerable effort. Though the Virginian is well able to write business letters on behalf of Judge Henry, he is concerned that a more intimate communication with Molly will betray his lack of formal education. He drafts the letter in pencil before making a fair copy in ink, and the pencil draft is “well-nigh...

(This entire section contains 877 words.)

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illegible with erasures and amendments.” The letter takes twenty days to travel from the Sunk Creek ranch to Bear Creek, not a remarkable length of time for the postal service at this period in the history of Wyoming. Molly has never seen the Virginian’s handwriting but knows instantly who wrote the letter.

The Virginian begins by apologizing for not coming himself, explaining that Judge Henry needs him now, and he would not think much of himself if he were to neglect his duties. He tells her not to believe the newspaper reports about Indians, who do not come to settled parts of the country like Bear Creek. These reports are lies spread by corrupt newspaper editors and politicians.

The Virginian reports that he has been reading Shakespeare. He is shocked by Othello and wants to know if it is true. He is impressed by the beautiful language of Romeo and Juliet but thinks “Romeo is no man.” Mercutio is more to his taste and more deserving of Juliet. He then tells Molly some news from the ranch, even reminiscing about Em’ly, the hen whose attempts to hatch potatoes and bars of soap led to his friendship with the narrator. Finally, he sends her a flower, which he says he has kissed.

Molly is perturbed by the letter and goes off on a long, brisk walk to calm her nerves. The next day, at six in the morning, the Virginian comes to visit in person. The narrator, however, wonders what would have transpired if he had managed to arrive the day before and been waiting for her when she returned from her walk.

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Chapters 25–27 Summary