On a midsummer afternoon, Jody is bored and throwing rocks at swallows' nests, you know how he do.
He has also been torturing his dog, by throwing rocks at him as well. Um, Jody, what's up with that?
After his mother yells at him to leave Mutt alone, Jody wanders off with his slingshot in hand, looking for something new to torture.
At the brush line, Jody takes precise aim at a little thrush, fires, and kills the bird. He then takes out his pocketknife and, feeling "a mean pain in his stomach" (2.5), Jody cuts off the bird's head, then disembowels it and rips off its wings. So now we've strayed into budding serial killer territory.
Does he feel regret? Nah. But he knows what other people would think if they knew, so he decides to just forget the whole thing happened rather than feel all guilty about it.
Jody then lies down in the grass and does some cloud gazing for a while before he starts to fully appreciate the dark mountains that lie to the west.
He remembers a chat he had with his father during which he asked what was over the mountains. Basically the answer is more mountains and more mountains until you get to the ocean. Jody is curious about what is in between though.
Probably valleys, dude.
To the east are the Gabilans. They are described as "jolly mountains, with hill ranches in their creases, and with pine trees growing in crests" (2.31).
Then, out of nowhere, an old guy comes walking toward the Tiflin ranch.
Jody comes up to meet him and sees that the "skin on his face had shrunk back against his skull until it defined bone, not flesh, and made the nose and chin seem sharp and fragile" (2.33). Sounds like a real looker.
The old man says his name is Gitano and that he has "come back" (2.36). Who? From where?
Jody freaks out and runs inside for his mom. The big baby.
Mrs. Tiflin comes outside to meet Gitano and again the old man cryptically mentions that he's come back.
After some prodding, he gives up the goods: he was born on this land, and his father was, too. Their house was washed away by the rain a long time ago.
To Mrs. Tiflin, it's a familiar story. But she still doesn't know what he wants.
Gitano says, rather presumptuously, "I will stay here … until I die" (2.53). Ah, there it is.
Now it's all too much for Mrs. Tiflin, too, so she tells Jody to run and fetch his father in the barn. When Carl arrives on the scene and hears what's up, he's a bit more forceful than his wife and son. He tells Gitano that he doesn't need another dude on the ranch, especially an old one.
But Gitano ain't havin' it. He keeps repeating that he was born here and he plans to stay. Eventually, the old man manages to wear down even Carl and the family sets up Gitano with some blankets in the bunkhouse.
Carl says, "You can eat here tonight… We'll give you your breakfast in the morning, and then you'll have to go along. Don't come to die with strangers."
Naturally, Jody's more than a little curious about this stranger. So he visits Gitano in the bunkhouse and peppers him with questions about the mountains: Did Gitano see any people living there? No. Were there houses? No. Well what then? I don't remember.
Jody's frustrated. The old guy doesn't seem to have any memories except that he thinks the mountains were quiet and nice.
Playing the tour guide, Jody takes Gitano down to the barn and shows him Easter, his father's oldest horse. Gitano's not impressed. He thinks Easter is too old to be useful, and that he "Just eats and pretty soon dies" (2.101).
Having overheard this rather blunt assessment, Carl jumps in, suggesting he should just shoot the horse and put it out of its misery.
Then Billy Buck jumps in (he's always hanging around) and is all, no siree Carl. Billy says old horses have a right to rest and live out their old age since they have worked all their life.
They argue for a bit, and then quit.
The sun goes down. Jody notices that Gitano seems really interested in Easter. He asks the old man if he likes the horse and Gitano replies, "Yes—but he's no damn good" (2.113).
The supper bell rings, and the Tiflins eat together with Billy and Gitano. Carl seems to be growing concerned about the old man and asks him if there isn't anywhere he can go.
Apparently Carl doesn't get the picture, because Gitano is not interested in going anywhere. At all.
Stubbornly, he says again, "I was born here" (2.124). Capisce?
After supper, Gitano heads to the bunkhouse and Carl and Billy discuss the old man in the living room. Carl says the old man cannot stay, but Billy disagrees. He argues that old paisanos are "damn good men. They can work older than white men" (2.132).
Carl doesn't disagree, but the fact is they're not exactly rolling in the dough. They can't afford another mouth to feed.
Jody decides to go spy on the old man. He peers in on him through the bunkhouse window and sees Gitano shielding something.
When he sees Jody spying, Gitano tries to cover up whatever he's hiding. Ever curious, Jody asks about it, and the Gitano gets all proud, while he launches into an explanation.
He shows Jody "a lean and lovely rapier with a golden basket hilt" (2.137). It was a gift from his dad.
Of course, Jody asks question after question, but Gitano doesn't have any answers.
So the kiddo gives up and goes home.
In the morning, Jody goes to the bunkhouse to find that Gitano is gone. He left his sack of clothes and just took off. And apparently so did Easter, because the horse is gone, too.
About mid-morning, a neighboring rancher comes by on horseback and tells that he saw a strange thing earlier—an old man riding an old horse past his farm, heading into the western mountains. He had no gun but there was something in his hand. Carl laughs at the thought that an old man stole Easter.
The neighbor asks Carl if they should go after him, but Carl's all don't bother. In fact Gitano probably just saved him the effort of burying that horse.
Jody walks off and stares at the mountains. He thinks he can see a black speck and wonders if that is the old man.
Jody lies down in the grass for a long time and is "full of a nameless sorrow" (2.173).