The Virginian

by Owen Wister

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Chapters 4–6 Summary

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Chapter 4: Deep Into Cattle Land

The grocery store starts to open around the narrator before he leaves his makeshift bed of quilts on the counter. The cowboys come in to buy canned food, and one of them buys tinned tomatoes so he can drink the juice on his long ride. They breakfast early, and all the cowboys have left Medicine Bow by seven o’clock. At noon, the Union Pacific train arrives, bringing the narrator’s lost trunk. It also brings Uncle Hughey back with his bride, to the great amusement of the Virginian and Medicine Bow in general.

The narrator and the Virginian set out from Medicine Bow for Judge Henry’s ranch. The narrator remarks again on the vastness of the landscape, in which it takes hours for them to lose sight of the small town, since it is the only landmark. Eventually, though, they are “swallowed in a vast solitude.” They pass the first night in a cabin with two cowboys and the second beneath the stars. The temperature varies from icy cold to intense heat. The greatest disturbance comes when they pass through a huge herd of cattle, and the horses take fright. The Virginian manages to save them by steering their waggon into a thicket of trees, the branches of which enmesh the horses’ legs.

The narrator tells the Virginian that he has saved both their lives, but the Virginian dislikes praise and only makes “some grumbling rejoinder.” Although he scolds the horses, he treats them kindly, remarking that the judge purchased them from a man who mistreated them. Soon after this adventure, they meet a man named Taylor, whom the Virginian knows. Taylor is a plentiful source of news and gossip and already knows about the incident between the Virginian and Trampas in the poker game at Medicine Bow. He tells the Virginian that a schoolhouse is about to be built in the small community of Bear Creek. The Virginian asks if a schoolmarm has yet been appointed.

Chapter 5: Enter the Woman

Mr. Taylor replies that they are taking steps to find a schoolmarm for Bear Creek but are not inclined to be hasty. However, they have heard from a Miss Mary Stark Wood, of Bennington, Vermont, who sounds as though she might fit the bill. Mr. Taylor produces a letter from this lady, which the narrator and the Virginian both examine. Although the style and content of the letter are as unfamiliar to the Virginian as they are to Mr. Taylor, he seems to understand the writer better. The woman has signed the letter “Your very sincere spinster,” which Taylor takes to mean that she is about forty. The Virginian, however, says that “Your real spinster don’t speak of her lot that easy” and surmises that Mary Stark Wood must really be around twenty.

On the following day, the narrator and the Virginian reach Sunk Creek, Judge Henry’s ranch, where the judge and his wife give them a hearty welcome. After this, the narrator sees little of the Virginian and believes he might never have come to know him any better were it not for the story he is about to relate, concerning a hen named Em’ly.

Chapter 6: Em’ly

Judge Henry’s ranch is provided with various luxuries unusual in that part of Wyoming, including milk and eggs. The narrator soon busies himself building a house for the chickens, and the cowboys come over to inspect his carpentering when not otherwise occupied. In the afternoons, he goes riding or shooting, spending over two months in a thoroughly contented manner, enjoying the Western landscape. His...

(This entire section contains 918 words.)

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inexperience in everything pertaining to the West quickly earns him the name of “the Tenderfoot.” To the chagrin of the Virginian, the judge tasks him with looking after the narrator, whom he often saves “from sudden death or from ridicule, which is worse.” However, when the narrator passes the bunkhouse where the cowboys stay, he hears the Virginian regaling his friends with stories of the narrator’s incompetence as a duck hunter.

Em’ly, one of the judge’s hens, never lays any eggs but keeps collecting objects such as potatoes and bars of soap, which she sits on and attempts to hatch. She even attempts to adopt some bantam chicks, but their real mother soon intervenes and reclaims them. Finally, she succeeds in claiming the puppies of the judge’s setter, who is bored with them and happy to relinquish the duties of motherhood. As the puppies grow up, however, Em’ly is unemployed again. The narrator gives her some stones on which to sit, but the Virginian thinks this unfair, since Em’ly has now proved that she can be a good mother. He takes a single egg from another hen and gives it to Em’ly. However, the hen in question has been sitting on the egg for weeks, and the egg therefore hatches almost immediately, plunging Em’ly into deep confusion and distress. They soon find her dead, and the Virginian solemnly buries her. The narrator respects him for this, and the two become friends, even agreeing to write to each other when the narrator leaves Sunk Creek. When he does leave, he tells the judge that he will be homesick for Wyoming, and the judge tells him to return whenever he wants. The narrator ends by confessing to the reader that “No lotus land ever cast its spell upon man’s heart more than Wyoming had enchanted mine.”

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Chapters 7–9 Summary