Study Guide

Angle of Repose Part 7, Chapter 4

By Wallace Stegner

Part 7, Chapter 4

  • The following years are relatively uneventful. By 1885, the project has been struggling for so long that Frank and Wiley are forced to find other jobs.
  • Wiley finds a job in Colorado pretty quickly. Then, just a week later, Frank announces that he has received a job offer in Oregon—and he's leaving tomorrow.
  • Oliver leaves Frank and Susan alone to say goodbye. Yes, you guessed it—they speak in a bunch of vague innuendo about how much they love each other.
  • Then, Frank calls Susan out for being pregnant (she's pregnant?), calling it "evidence [...] of how much [she belongs] to someone else" (7.4.34). Susan does not like this comment and doesn't even give Frank a kiss goodbye.
  • Fast-forward a few months. Because she's supporting the family, Susan is working hard, even though she is by now several months pregnant.
  • The baby is kicking hard, so Susan goes looking for Mrs. Briscoe. No luck. She asks Nellie if she knows what's up, but all the girl knows is that Mrs. Briscoe left to take a walk. Come to think of it, Ollie is missing, too…
  • Actually, Ollie is outside with his dad, working on a windmill. This frustrates Susan, as she feels that the boy spends too much time tinkering and not enough time getting educated.
  • Susan heads out to the windmill, but Oliver is working alone. According to him, Ollie left with Mrs. Briscoe to take a walk "down by the creek" (7.4.72).
  • Susan goes back inside and stares out the window at the river that surrounds their humble abode. Oliver built a bridge across the water, but the thing shakes and rattles and even dips under the water at times. Scary stuff.
  • Then, in the distance, Susan sees Mrs. Briscoe: she's drinking from a bottle. After a moment, Mrs. Briscoe gets up, motioning for Ollie to follow, and walks to the bridge. The boy seems to be carrying a package under his arm.
  • Ollie starts crossing the bridge (which is enough to send Susan into a panic) but quickly loses his footing and drops the package into the raging water, which sends Susan screaming bloody murder and running through the field toward the river.
  • In an instant, Oliver is there, scooping up Ollie and bringing him safely to the other side. Phew—we were getting a little nervous.
  • Susan goes nuts and demands to know what was in the package. After some prodding, Ollie admits that Mrs. Briscoe asked him to get a box of whiskey that she had hidden nearby.
  • Susan fires Mrs. Briscoe and tells Oliver to take her away asap. That's pretty risky, given that Susan is close to giving birth and there aren't any other midwives in the area.
  • So, Oliver takes Mrs. Briscoe away. Susan gets her first childbirth pains about an hour later because, of course.
  • That leaves poor little Nellie to take charge of the situation. Their only hope is to get in touch with Mrs. Olpen, a neighbor who's the only person nearby with any experience with kids.
  • The only way for this to happen is for Ollie to cross the bridge all by himself, which his mother has forbidden him from doing. Given that Susan's a bit incapacitated, Ollie is sure she won't mind.
  • Ollie successfully crosses the bridge and hops on a horse. His plan is to visit a nearby workman named John and ask him to hustle over to the Olpens.
  • When Ollie meets up with John, the plan changes—John will ride ahead in an attempt to meet up with Oliver, while Ollie will head to the Olpens' house.
  • Ollie finds Mrs. Olpen in the front yard chopping the head off a chicken with "one short blow" (7.4.175). She agrees to help but takes so long to get ready that they're still there when Oliver pulls up in the distance.
  • Mrs. Olpen rides in the buggy with Oliver while Ollie follows behind on his pony. They finally reach the house, and Ollie plays outside while the adults do their thing.
  • A while later, Oliver comes outside and tells Ollie how proud of him he is. He even lets Ollie cross the bridge by himself (as long as he promises not to tell his mom, of course).
  • A real doctor arrives later that day, which is a huge relief. And then, finally, Susan gives birth to a bouncing baby girl.