The Virginian

by Owen Wister

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Chapters 7–9 Summary

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Chapter 7: Through Two Snows

The following spring, the narrator receives a letter from the Virginian. It is eccentrically spelled and gives the narrator various pieces of news, including the intelligence that the Virginian is leaving Judge Henry’s employment. He also offers to take the narrator elk-hunting, a proposition to which the narrator rapidly agrees. Although the Virginian is typically taciturn during the hunting expedition, the narrator understands that he left the judge’s ranch because a foreman or assistant foreman had treated him unfairly, allotting him extra work without credit or pay. The Virginian intends to return to the ranch when the judge has noticed what a difference his absence has made in the quality and efficiency of the work done there.

In the winter, Judge Henry takes a trip to the East Coast and tells the narrator that the Virginian is back at Sunk Creek. Matters fell out exactly as the Virginian had hoped, and the judge now realizes what a valuable employee he has been. The narrator also learns that the Virginian’s former friend Steve is suspected of cattle rustling, and the Virginian has parted company with him because of this. Finally, Judge and Mrs. Henry tell him that the schoolhouse at Bear Creek has been finished and a schoolmarm appointed.

Chapter 8: The Sincere Spinster

This chapter is narrated in exactly the same tone as the others, and there is no indication that the narrator has changed. However, the narrator does not explain how he came by the information it contains, nor does he insert himself into the narrative at any point. The point of view is detached and omniscient.

Mary Stark Wood of Bennington, Vermont, the new schoolmarm of Bear Creek, is, as the Virginian guessed, a young lady of twenty. She is, however, an unusual type of young lady, being one who is willing to travel almost two thousand miles to a wild part of the country to become a schoolmarm in the wilds of Wyoming. She can boast of illustrious ancestors, including war heroes on the Stark side of her family. However, her family is no longer prosperous (even to the modest extent that it once was), and she has had to turn her hand to all kinds of work, from giving music lessons to embroidering handkerchiefs to making preserves, in order to make ends meet.

Mary, who is called Molly by friends and family, has a suitor called Sam Bannett. She is fond of him but does not love him. She therefore makes up her mind to refuse his offer of marriage, though she is bitterly sorry for the pain this causes and weeps in private over Sam’s heartbreak. Soon afterward, partly to escape from Sam—and her mother, who favors his cause—Molly accepts the position of schoolmarm at Bear Creek, and within two months she has started on her journey there, “heart-heavy, but with a spirit craving the unknown.”

Chapter 9: The Spinster Meets the Unknown

One Monday in the cold of early spring, a group of horsemen ride out from Sunk Creek to corral the cattle. They see the schoolhouse at Bear Creek and regard it as a symbol of the neighborhood becoming effete and civilized, with women and children taking precedence over the men who once ruled this wild landscape. They stop for a meal at the house of an old comrade who has settled down to a life of domesticity, with a wife and two young children. The rough cowboys become polite and sheepish in the presence of his wife.

At the same time as the cowboys are sitting down...

(This entire section contains 943 words.)

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to lunch in Bear Creek, Molly Wood is on a train leaving Bennington, Vermont. She has few possessions and is determined to make her own way in the world and not to be a burden to her mother. Sam Bannett asks if he can accompany her as far as Rotterdam Junction, but she refuses, and he obeys her command to go, a meekness which the narrator deprecates. Molly travels west, through Ohio and Nebraska, with the landscape becoming emptier and wilder as the days pass. Her train journey is followed by many hours on stagecoaches. On the last of these, the driver is drunk, and Molly is suddenly and narrowly saved from a crash by a mysterious rider who whisks her out of the carriage at the last minute. He then speaks sharply to the driver and throws away the driver’s bottle of whiskey, after which the repentant driver handles the coach with great care, “much as if it had been a perambulator.”

“After four days of train and thirty hours of stage,” Molly is far from being her usual self. She does not speak or thank her unknown savior, and she reproaches herself with this afterward, hoping that she will see him again.

At about this time, the narrator continues, the value of cattle had risen sharply. The period of which he is writing was not so long ago but has already entered the mythology of Wyoming as a golden era of prosperity. The celebrations of this sudden wealth for cattle ranchers include a barbecue held by the Stanton brothers (later called the Swinton brothers, which seems simply to be an error) on the Goose Egg ranch at Bear Creek, and many people, including the Virginian, come from far away to attend. At this point, it is revealed that the Virginian was the mysterious rider who rescued Molly from the stagecoach and that he has decided to make the long journey to Bear Creek partly because he has discovered her identity and knows that she now lives there.

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Chapters 10–12 Summary